Ryan Newman looked like a man on a mission early in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
After being forced to start in the back of the field due to an engine issue that required the team to make a change Saturday night, Newman put on a display of determination that would make the Army Strong Soldiers he represents proud. Unfortunately, tire issues at the newly paved and fast Michigan racetrack halted Newman’s progress and led to a 15th-place finish for the No. 39 U.S. Army team.
“Today was a battle for the entire U.S. Army team,” said Newman, who earned his ninth top-15 of the 2012 season. “We had to start in the back because the guys found something in the engine that they didn’t like last night, so we had our work cut out for us from the drop of the green flag.
“We dug our heels in, and we fought hard. We were up in the top-20 by lap five, and we showed how strong we were. We were not going to give up. Then I’m not sure what happened. We blistered a right rear earlier in the race and I thought I had another one blistering, and I did, but not as bad as I thought. You get a blistered tire like that, and then you get a vibration later; it just kind of destroys your confidence. To come up with a 15th-place finish after all that is not bad, but I wanted to do better in the U.S. Army Chevrolet today, especially since we were celebrating their 237th birthday this weekend.”
It was a frustrating outing at the 2-mile oval for Newman and his U.S. Army team. After qualifying fifth, the team discovered a problem and changed engines, forcing Newman to start at the rear of the field. And despite the adversity he faced, Newman refused to give up. Instead, he was more determined behind the wheel of the U.S. Army Chevy. In fact, by lap 30, Newman had driven his No. 39 Chevy to the 11th spot, and Newman’s forward progress didn’t stop there.
Under caution at lap 80, Newman pitted for right-side tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to help his tight-handling racecar. The pit call resulted in Newman moving into the top-10 for the first time all day as he restarted ninth at lap 87.
By the halfway point of the race at lap 100, Newman had moved into sixth place. Shortly after, Newman began radioing his crew that his racecar was looser than it had been all day.
The loose-handling condition caused Newman to lose spots on the track, and it was only a few laps later that radioed the crew that he was going to pit early because he was afraid that he had a right rear tire coming apart. Newman pitted at lap 115 for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment.
For Newman, the decision to pit proved to be a good one because his right rear tire was blistered all the way around the center of the tire. While the early, green-flag pit stop cost him a lap to the leaders, a quick caution at lap 120 allowed Newman to get back on the lead lap, thanks to the NASCAR’s wave-around rule. Newman restarted the race at lap 125 in 13th place.
However, with cars around him with fresher tires, Newman slid after the restart. He fell to 15th place. As the laps wound down, Newman reported that he felt like he had another right-rear tire coming apart.
Despite that, Newman managed to keep his car on the track and nurse it to the checkered flag to finish 15th.
“I’m really proud of the effort the guys made today,” Newman said. “They worked their butts off this weekend, and while we weren’t able to complete our mission of winning the race, we were able to salvage a decent finish.”
Newman’s SHR teammate, Tony Stewart, finished second in the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Quicken Loans 400 to break a 143-race winless streak. His last victory came June 15, 2008, and was also at Michigan. Today’s win marked the 19th Sprint Cup victory of his career and his second at Michigan.
Stewart finished 5.393 seconds behind Earnhardt in the runner-up spot, while Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five. Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for a total of 39 laps, with 12 drivers failing to finish the 200-lap race, the start of which was delayed approximately two hours due to rain.
With round 15 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He remained eighth with 491 points, 74 back of series leader Kenseth. Newman gained one position and sits 13th with 427 points, 138 points behind Kenseth.