Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Haas Automation team pinpointed Sunday’s 5-Hour Energy 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway as one that could turn the tide of their season and get them back on the right track. And after 500 miles around Pocono’s 2.5-mile triangle, that’s just what Newman and his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team did by finishing a solid ninth – the team’s sixth top-10 this season and first since a fifth-place finish at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in May.
The ninth-place effort didn’t come without some adversity, however. While Newman started eighth and ran in the top-10 for much of the day and the crew performed solidly on pit road, trouble struck late in the 200-lap race as Newman reported on lap 179 that he had lost third gear. Despite the failure, he was able to maintain his position on the racetrack and pull out a top-10 finish.
“With 21 laps to go, we lost third gear in the transmission,” said crew chief Tony Gibson. “And we thought we were going to be OK, but the transmission started running hot and started pumping fluid out. We didn’t know it at the time. It smoked a little bit in the corners, but then it cleared up and went away and we ran the last 15 laps with no smoke.
“I think what happened was it just kind of dumped all the fluid out of the transmission. It just got hot and started pumping it out. So, we were just very, very lucky today to finish this race. For once, a break went our way. We didn’t need a green-white-checkered and we needed to finish with a broken transmission. We’ll take it and go on.”
Under overcast skies, Newman had a competitive racecar from the drop of the green flag. He started eighth and reported to his crew that the car’s balance was good, but that he needed to be tightened up just a little bit toward exit, especially in turn one. Newman told his crew that the car definitely felt better as the run went on, but he still needed just a little help.
At lap 19, NASCAR threw a competition caution so that the teams could check tire wear due to excessive rains overnight in Pocono. Newman gave up his seventh-place spot and brought the car to the attention of his crew for four tires, fuel and air pressure adjustments in the right-front and left-rear tires.
Due to varying pit strategies with some teams opting to take just two tires, Newman restarted in 24th on lap 21. But the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevy was strong, and Newman quickly began picking off positions to regain the spots lost on pit road. By lap 40, he was 11th.
Newman continued to complain that his car was just a little too free, and at lap 46, he pitted under green for four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment. The quick stop helped him maintain his 11th-place position once the green-flag pit stops cycled through.
While Newman reported that the car felt “real nice,” he followed up by telling Gibson that his car continued to be just a little too free, and added, “the car’s got a good bit of speed in it if we can tighten it up.”
Despite being too free, Newman moved into the ninth spot by lap 60.
A slightly loose-handling racecar – particularly in turn one – continued to be Newman’s biggest problem throughout the race. At each opportunity, Newman’s crew opted for a variety of adjustments on pit road, including track bar, wedge and air pressure adjustments to improve the car’s handling.
With each adjustment, Newman would report that his car’s handling had improved slightly, but that he still needed to be tightened up just a little bit.
When the caution flag waved on lap 154, Newman sat in seventh place. He told his crew that the car felt “pretty good,” but he still needed to be a little tighter. Once again, the crew changed four tires, added fuel and made air pressure adjustments in the left-rear and right-front tires.
An ultra-quick stop helped Newman restart in fifth place at lap 159. He ran in the top-eight until pitting for his final stop of the afternoon at lap 176.
It was then while running in 11th that Newman reported he had a problem to his crew. Like his SHR teammate Tony Stewart, Newman had lost third gear. “It’s grinding up third right now,” he said.
Despite the loss of third gear, Gibson encouraged his driver to do all he could in the closing laps of the race to get the best finish possible.
“We were money in the tunnel turn all day – nobody could beat us there,” Newman said. “I really appreciate all the guys’ hard work today. We had a really good, competitive Haas Automation Chevy all day long. I would’ve liked to have seen where we could’ve ended up without the transmission issues, but this was definitely a finish that we needed after the last few races.”