Ryan Newman would have liked one more restart in the rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
Newman, who was sixth when the race was called due to heavy rain and thunderstorms at lap 98, thought he could drive his No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet to the front of the field or – at the very least – reach the top-five with one more chance.
“Our car was pretty good today. One more restart, and I think we would have been in really good shape with the Haas Automation Chevrolet,” said Newman, who notched his seventh top-10 finish of 2012 and his 10th top-10 in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono. “I really wish we would have gotten one more chance. Nevertheless, the guys did a good job. They fought hard, had decent pit stops.”
The strong result continued Newman’s string of top-10 finishes dating back four races, starting with his fifth-place effort at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
“It was a good, solid day,” Newman said. “We needed that, another top-10. We gained on the No. 18 (Kyle Busch), which we needed, but now I’ve got to contend with the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon), it looks like. We need to focus on getting another win.”
Newman’s Haas Automation Chevy was a solid performer from the drop of the green flag. After starting ninth, Newman slid to 12th in the opening laps. But his time outside of the top-10 was brief.
Under a caution flag at lap 20, Newman took right-side tires and fuel. Thanks to a variety of pit strategies, Newman restarted 17th. But just six laps later, Newman already was back in the top-10 – and the No. 39 team didn’t look back. Other than when green-flag pit stops cycled through, Newman held his place in the top-10 for the remainder of the race.
The Pennsylvania 400 quickly became a race to halfway or 80 laps of the scheduled 160-lap distance due to threatening weather in the area. Once the race reached the halfway point, it was a race to see who could get to the front of the field before the rain arrived for good at the 2.5-mile triangle.
The frantic pace and the race to get to the front led to two late-race incidents that shook up the running order. Following a caution at lap 87, the Haas Automation team opted to stay on the racetrack. The decision moved up Newman one spot to ninth on the racetrack.
Then, on lap 92, the leaders – Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth – tangled at the front of the field. Newman went low on the racetrack to narrowly avoid the wrecking, slowing racecars. When the caution waved, Newman was shown in sixth.
That’s where Newman finished the race, as the accident cleanup wasn’t completed before it began raining.
Tony Stewart, Newman’s teammate and driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 “Back-to-School” Chevrolet, finished fifth. It was Stewart’s ninth top-five result and 11th top-10 of 2012 and his 11th top-five and 20th top-10 in 27 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2.5-mile triangle.
It was the second straight race the SHR duo finished together in the top-10 and the sixth time they’ve finished in the top-10 together this season. Prior to Pocono, the tandem finished among the top-10 March 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, March 25 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., April 1 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, July 7 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and July 29 at Indianapolis (Ind.) Motor Speedway.
Jeff Gordon won the Pennsylvania 400 to score his 86th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his sixth at Pocono.
Kasey Kahne finished behind Gordon in the runner-up spot as the race ended under caution with heavy rain beginning to soak the racetrack. Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Stewart rounded out the top-five, while Newman, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Regan Smith and Marcos Ambrose comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were three caution periods for 14 laps, with 14 drivers failing to finish the 98-lap race, which was shortened from its scheduled 160-lap distance due to the heavy rains.
With round 21 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He improved two spots to sixth and has 691 points, 53 back of series leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., and one point ahead of seventh-place Keselowski with a 69-point cushion over 11th-place Kahne. Newman remained 14th and has 611 points, 133 behind Earnhardt and 68 behind 10th-place Bowyer.
Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Just five races remain before the cutoff for the 12-driver, 10-race Chase. Chase positions 11-12 are wild cards awarded to those drivers between 11th and 20th in points who have the most wins. In the event of multiple drivers having the same amount of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kahne holds the 11th-place wild-card spot thanks to his two victories, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Gordon vaulted into the 12th-place wild card spot with his win in the Pennsylvania 400. While Gordon has only one victory just like fellow wild-card contenders Newman, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, his 13th-place point standing earns him the 12th and final wild card by virtue of the tiebreaker.
Newman can earn a wild card spot by grabbing another victory in the next five races or by climbing into the top-10 in points.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen on Sunday, Aug. 12 at the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at noon.