Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Aspen Dental team overcame a pit road incident that resulted in a heavily damaged racecar and survived a mad dash and a rash of wrecks in the closing laps of the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, earning a hard-fought fifth-place finish.
It was Newman’s first top-five since his victory April 1 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, and it was the first top-five for him in a point-paying race at the 2.5-mile Daytona superspeedway since joining Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2009.
Newman’s fifth-place effort wasn’t the only reason the No. 39 Aspen Dental team had to smile – teammate Tony Stewart capped off the night with a victory at Daytona, his third of the season
“It was just a good run for our Aspen Dental Chevrolet in their first race for them on our car,” Newman said. “I’m really proud to have them as part of Stewart-Haas Racing and myself. A top-five is what our team needed. I think we were about 15th or 16th going into turn three, and to come off of turn four and be fifth at the start/finish line was pretty impressive. Congratulations to Tony (Stewart) and those guys – they did an awesome job.”
Newman had a fast racecar from the time the team unloaded at Daytona on Thursday afternoon. And after starting second Saturday night, he ran most of the early part of the 160-lap race in the top-five.
But bad luck has a history of finding Newman at Daytona. And it did again under the caution flag on lap 82 while he was on pit road.
Newman brought his No. 39 Aspen Dental Chevrolet to the pits for four tires and fuel. As he left his pit box and tried to exit pit road, the No. 39 Chevrolet was squeezed between Kasey Kahne, who was leaving his pit box, and Jeff Gordon, who was also exiting pit road. Gordon tagged Newman in the right rear, which sent the No. 39 car spinning backward into the No. 2 car of Brad Keselowski, which was being serviced in his pit box. The crew all escaped injury, but Newman’s car was heavily damaged on the right-rear side.
“Basically, the way I saw the No. 24 (Gordon) just didn’t leave us any room,” Newman said after the race. “I watched him in the mirror coming off, he was way behind us, and he just never made it to the outside lane. When I came off on the outside of the No. 5 (Kahne) the No. 5 turned down, he had to go around whoever it was, and we just all three went together.
“We came together and I got the rough end of the deal, it looked like, because I spun around and hit the No. 2 car. Luckily, we didn’t hit anybody; all the guys stayed safe. That was important – that is the last thing I want to see is anybody get hit on pit road. I don’t mind bumping into guys on the racetrack, but hitting anybody is not cool.”
Following the spin on pit road, Newman had to bring his car back down pit road two additional times under that caution so that the crew could examine the damage and make repairs. The seam where the two pieces of sheet metal come together above the right rear tire was split during the accident, so the team had to repair and tighten the sheet metal, clear the fender from the tires and fix the brace that held everything together.
After two pit stops, Newman had to return to the track as the race restarted, which put him in 33rd and behind the pack of racecars. But a caution just a few laps later, at lap 92, helped Newman’s cause.
He pitted two more times so that the team could finish the repair job above the right rear tire. When Newman returned to the racetrack, crew chief Tony Gibson told his driver that the repairs were complete and that he still had a shot to win the race.
Newman then hung in the back of the pack, still in the top-25, until the caution flag waved at lap 125.
Under the caution, Newman pitted and took two right-side tires and fuel, hoping to gain track position. Newman returned to the track in ninth-place and began his march back to the front of the field. But the remaining 30 laps weren’t without incident.
Newman was able to successfully avoid three more multi-car wrecks, including a multi-car melee on the final lap to finish fifth.
“After what happened on pit road, I really didn’t know what to expect out of our Aspen Dental Chevy,” Newman said. “But the guys did a great job with the repairs and just a great job overall. We had a fast racecar and getting this top five is big for us, especially with the stretch coming up. We’re still in contention for a spot in the Chase, and that’s what we needed to do tonight is survive. I’m just happy to finally bring a car home in one piece from one of these races.”
Stewart’s victory was his 47th career Sprint Cup win and his fourth win and 13th top-10 in 28 career Sprint Cup starts at Daytona.
With the victory, Stewart, who led twice for 22 laps, moved into 14th on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup win list. He previously was tied with NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Buck Baker. The win was Stewart’s 18th all-time at Daytona, which includes non-points Sprint Cup events, NASCAR Nationwide Series events and IROC races. The victory places Stewart second on the track’s all-time win list, 16 behind the legendary Dale Earnhardt (34). All four of Stewart’s points-paying Sprint Cup wins have come in the Coke Zero 400 (2005, 2006, 2009 and 2012).
This was the 17th point-paying Sprint Cup win for SHR since its inception in 2009 and its fourth this season. Stewart scored SHR’s first victory of 2012 on March 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and its second victory March 25 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Newman grabbed the organization’s third win Martinsville.
Stewart and Newman finished in the top-five for the second time this season. In the third race of the season at Las Vegas, Stewart won and Newman finished fourth.
Jeff Burton finished behind Stewart in the runner-up spot as the Coke Zero 400 ended under caution, while Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Newman rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Kahne, Keselowski, Michael Waltrip and Bobby Labonte comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for a total of 23 laps, with 14 drivers failing to finish the 160-lap race.
With round 18 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He improved four spots to fifth and has 592 points, 84 back of series leader Kenseth, six points ahead of sixth-place Kevin Harvick and 51 ahead of 11th-place Edwards. Newman remained 15th and has 502 points, which puts him 174 points behind Kenseth and 70 behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer.