Ryan Newman drove his No. 39 Quicken Loans/U.S. Army Chevrolet to a hard-fought fifth-place finish in the AdvoCare 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway in unique fashion: He crossed the start-finish line backward.
As the field came to the checkered flag, Newman was one of several cars that hit oil spewed by another racecar that had wrecked exiting turn four on the previous lap. Running through the oil sent Newman spinning and crashing into the inside retaining wall. As Newman ricocheted and spun across the track, his car was like a ping-pong ball as it was hit again by several other cars racing to the checkered flag. But Newman’s backward-and-damaged No. 39 still crossed the line fifth.
It was the first top-five finish for Newman since being reunited with former crew chief Matt Borland just three weeks ago at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. It was Newman’s fifth top-five result of 2012 and his eighth top-five in 21 career Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix.
“Well, my race car is junk,” said Newman after being evaluated and released from the infield care center after his wreck. “That was a good run for our Quicken Loans/U.S. Army Chevrolet. Matt made some good calls today, and the crew did a good job. We got off on our pit strategy there for a bit, but we didn’t give up on each other and we kept fighting and making the car better. I’m just really disappointed in the way NASCAR handled that last lap there. That was not fair to the drivers at all. I took a hard hit. So did some others, and I’m just glad everyone’s OK.
“We had a Veterans Day paint scheme thanks to Quicken Loans, and I’m really proud of everything there. I just want to say thanks to the veterans out there, and I hope we were able to make the Soldiers proud with our fifth-place effort today.”
Newman started the penultimate race of the 2012 Sprint Cup season in 12th place. By lap 10, he had moved into the top-10 for the first time. Newman stayed in the top-10 for the next 25 laps. But as the run progressed, his racecar started to get too tight, which made it difficult to get through the turns.
By lap 50, Newman had dropped to 14th place in the running order. The next lap, the caution flag waved. Newman told his crew he needed help with his tight-handling racecar, especially exiting the turns. He pitted for four tires, fuel, and air pressure and wedge adjustments. Due to varying pit strategies, Newman returned to the track in 23rd.
While the balance of Newman’s racecar initially showed improvement, the No. 39 Chevy got tighter as the run wore on. Newman told his crew that the car was especially tight in turns two and four of the 1-mile oval. At lap 100, Newman had moved up to 16th.
Newman pitted once again at lap 130 for four tires, fuel, wedge and air pressure adjustments to help a tight-handling racecar. The crew also added tape to the grille. When the green-flag stops cycled through by lap 135, Newman was back in 16th place.
The No. 39 Quicken Loans/U.S. Army Chevrolet remained tight in the corners. But when the caution flag waved at lap 166, Borland made the call for Newman to stay out on the racetrack instead of coming to the pits for more chassis adjustments.
The pit call put Newman into the lead when the race restarted on lap 173. While Newman wasn’t able to hold the lead once the green flag dropped, he settled into the second spot and held his own for the next 40 laps. Up front in less traffic, the handling of Newman’s car improved, but it was still a touch tight in the center of corners.
Newman was forced to give up his third-place spot at lap 210 to pit under green for four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment. Newman returned to the track in 20th place, one lap down to the leaders.
When the caution flag waved at lap 234, Newman stayed out and was able to take the wave-around to get back on the lead lap. When the race restarted at lap 241, Newman was in 19th.
While the balance of his car had improved – he was slightly loose in turns three and four – Newman said he couldn’t make any ground in the “dirty air” of heavier traffic.
The previous caution ensured the leaders could make it the rest of the race on fuel, but Newman still needed to make one more stop. But the No. 39 team caught a break when the caution flag waved again on lap 273.
Newman pitted for left-side tires, an air pressure adjustment and fuel. Quick pit work put him back on track in 13th place for the restart on lap 277.
By lap 290, Newman had returned to the top-10. He didn’t look back from there. Newman steadily and consistently ticked off spots and had moved into sixth place when the final caution of the race waved at lap 311 for a multi-car incident. When the race restarted at lap 317, Newman quickly drove into the top-five and stayed there despite the final-turn melee two laps later.
Newman’s Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate, Tony Stewart, finished 19th.
SHR driver Danica Patrick, who is piloting the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing via a collaborative agreement with SHR, finished 17th in her first Sprint Cup race at Phoenix. It was her best career Sprint Cup finish, coming in her 10th start.
Kevin Harvick won the AdvoCare 500k to score his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Phoenix.
Denny Hamlin finished .580 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Newman rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 38 laps, with 15 drivers failing to finish the 319-lap race, which was extended seven laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
Stewart is representing SHR in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and came into the ninth race of the 10-race Chase in eighth place among the 12 Chase drivers, 80 points behind Chase leader Jimmie Johnson. Stewart leaves Phoenix ninth in the standings, 87 points behind new Chase leader Keselowski and 25 points behind fifth-place Hamlin.
Newman maintained 14th place in the standings. He has 1,009 points, 82 back of 13th-place Kyle Busch.