Indiana native Ryan Newman scored an emotional win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday beating one of the best drivers in the world a day after winning the pole. Newman charged across the line to the roar of the partisan crowd with over a 2.5 second lead over four time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson who had won at the Brickyard on four previous attempts.
Newman led from the green flag and would keep the point through the first 28 laps until giving up the lead to Johnson when he pitted. Johnson would keep the lead through the first caution which didn’t come out until lap 59; it appeared that Johnson could be on his way to a fifth Indy win.
“Track position was really important, especially the way my car was driving,” Johnson said. “Although it had plenty of speed, it wasn’t the easiest thing to drive. My times that I caught lap traffic or had to pass someone for position, it took a lot of risk to get that done. Was able to manage all that well. “
The race soon became all about pit strategy. Joey Logano took the lead during a caution on lap 83 after he and four others stayed out. He surrendered the lead on lap 98 for a green flag pit stop giving the point back to Johnson who had pitted at lap 83 but took only two tires. Meanwhile Newman who had taken four tires had worked his way back and found himself in sixth by lap 93.
“I watched Jimmie, kept quiet. I wanted to see who I was placing,” Newman said. “Played the old Pearson role. I knew I had a good car. I didn’t want to have a good car and not win the race.”
A caution on lap 114 saw Newman drop back to 13th, but his Chevy was so strong that by lap 126 he was again in second. Johnson led Newman and the battle was now down to them for the win. The key to that win came on the final round of green flag pit stops on lap 134. Johnson’s crew made a rare error on the left rear tire forcing Johnson to spend nearly 16 seconds in the pits. Newman’s crew chief Matt Borland however elected to take only two tires, giving Newman the lead that he would carry through the final laps and victory.
“Matt’s (Borland) call gave me the track position I needed, taking the two tires,” Newman said. “I was just counting down the laps from that point on. I knew a lot of guys needed to pit. I didn’t know how far back Jimmie was. He said four seconds at that point. I knew I had to manage my racecar and my tires. I knew it was so difficult to pass. His car was looking looser and looser as I ran behind him.”
Johnson acknowledged that the mistake on pit road probably cost him the race.
“We maintained great track position through really the bulk of the race,” Johnson said. “Then there at the end we had a little mistake on pit road, the 39 (Newman) took two where we took four. Once I got back to the track, I had a lot of distance to make up.”
“Throughout the race I saw him (Newman) at the beginning and the middle part, didn’t see a lot of him,” he added. “When I saw him again at the end I knew I was going to have my hands full with him. His car had a lot of pace. He did an amazing job.”
Behind second place Johnson, Kasey Kahne was third, Newman’s team owner Tony Stewart fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth.
“They were way faster than us and they were up there pretty far,” Kenseth said. “Jimmie (Johnson) went by me so quick that I thought he was going to suck the numbers off the doors. He was really quick. Ryan (Newman) had a really fast car. We had a top-10 car most of the day, but I couldn’t run with those guys.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. overcame early race trouble -he had a loose wheel on his Chevy and was forced to pit on lap 13 and lost a lap. He fell to last place at one point but rallied back for sixth.
“That was weird to have a loose wheel then,” Earnhardt said. “We changed our strategy and made it work. The car had good speed. Right at the end, we were either running out of gas, or had a little bit of an engine problem the last two or three laps. I almost lost another spot. But the car just quit running at the end. I don’t know if it was out of fuel or what. But the fuel pressure was good.”
Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch rounded out the top ten.
Johnson maintains his lead in the points as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway next Sunday for the second visit of the season. Johnson won the race there in June.
Prior to next week however, Newman, who has already been told he is out at Stewart-Haas Racing, was able to enjoy one of the biggest wins of his racing career.
“To me, it’s awesome to be here at Indy,” he said. “It’s awesome because it’s my home state. I grew up racing around here, Winchester, Salem, IRP, little tracks like Anderson. That makes it special. Most people don’t know, I lived out in a shop in Jeff Gordon’s old shop before I ever made it in NASCAR. I slept with the racecars. That was my summer job, working racecars, sleeping in the shop with them. I’ve raced go karts at pretty much every go kart track around here, been kicked out of half of them. Those are the things that make it special.”
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