He beats boss Stewart to win again at NHMS
LOUDON, N.H. - Even after winning yesterday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 from the pole position, which he captured Friday afternoon with a record-setting qualifying run of 135.232 miles per hour, Ryan Newman seemed at a loss to explain his success at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
It was, after all, a flat 1.058-mile oval that seemed as ill-fitting to him as an itchy wool turtleneck on a hot summer day.
“How do I explain it?’’ Newman said, after recording his 15th career Cup victory, his third at NHMS, where he led yesterday six times for 119 laps, including the last 72, in his No. 39 Chevrolet. He led his boss and teammate, Tony Stewart, across the granite-striped finish line to deliver Stewart-Haas Racing its first 1-2 finish after sweeping the front row during qualifications.
“Man, I’ll sit back in a rocking chair someday and tell you,’’ Newman said, smiling, as he sat on the dais flanked by crew chief Tony Gibson and co-owner Gene Haas. “Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve always said that this track, you have to only take what it will give you. That’s why I like banked racetracks even more because you can physically push the car in the corner, it will stick.
“Here, it’s going to slide into the walls. It’s like the wall is a magnet and the racecar is metal. You have to be on eggshells with the steering wheel, with the pedals, the things you do. Working around traffic, it’s a demanding racetrack from that standpoint.’’
Despite that, Newman has made his mark at NHMS.
He recorded the first Cup triumph of his career in New Hampshire Sept. 15, 2002, winning a rain-shortened event from the pole for owner Roger Penske. He established, then reestablished Cup qualifying records at the track. And he won the last three NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events here, all from the pole, after sweeping both Modified races at NHMS last year.
Yesterday, the 33-year-old from South Bend, Ind., added to his Granite State résumé by becoming the 13th different winner in 19 Sprint Cup races this season.
“It was a perfect day for the organization, for sure,’’ Stewart said. “I’m curious to see what the record books show, but I’m sure Ryan is the only guy to get two poles and two wins in a weekend here. To do it in a Modified [Saturday] and in the Cup car today, for the organization to take the front row and get first and second today, you couldn’t ask for a better weekend.’’
It gave Stewart-Haas a huge momentum boost headed into the upcoming off weekend before action resumes at the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Sometimes it’s nice to take a weekend off away from the racetrack, neutralize yourself,’’ said Newman, who solidified his spot among the top 10 by climbing one spot to eighth after posting his first win and ninth top-10 finish of the season. “We’re not going to kick it out of gear for very long. This is huge for our team, even bigger for our organization.
“Tony Gibson said before the race, ‘This is our race,’ ’’ Newman said. “But I wanted to tell him, ‘This is not our race until we make it our race,’ and we did make it our race. All the guys came together and made it happen.’’
Newman gave a glimpse of his superiority at the track when he maintained precious position at the front by running the first 150 miles of the 301-mile affair on the same set of left-side Goodyear tires.
“It’s just track position,’’ Gibson said. “It forces you to do things you normally wouldn’t do: Take two [tires], stay out on fuel, and gamble. The reason we came to it today because we knew if we pitted like when the 14 [Stewart] and those guys did, there were going to be two or three guys that stayed out, like the 2 car did at Kansas [resulting in Brad Keselowski’s first win of the season]. Somebody is going to stay out and roll the dice on fuel mileage and win it.’’
And Newman made certain Gibson knew how he felt about the matter.
“Ryan, he’s on me all the time,’’ Gibson said. “He’s [like], ‘Dude, we’re going to have to . . . win a race.’ The way to win is to stay out.’’
That’s what Newman did, coming in only midway through the race when he took four tires and fuel on a pit stop that dropped him to 15th.
“I only got nervous when he told me we were eight laps short [of fuel],’’ Newman said. “Then he told me 15 laps later after several yellow flags we were still eight laps short. I was thinking to myself, ‘We shouldn’t be.’ I was worried about that part of it.
“I knew I was doing a really good job of saving fuel, which is not the easiest thing to do. Saving grace was that we had a good racecar, we were able to pull out on a lead and maintain that lead.’’
Newman said the only car that was capable of catching him was that of Stewart, who had to fight his way through traffic to reach Newman’s bumper.
“The problem was, to do what we did to get a second, I used everything up getting there,’’ Stewart said. “That was far and as close to Ryan as I could get.’’
Newman wrested the lead from Clint Bowyer on Lap 229 and never looked back.
So, for a track he admittedly didn’t have the greatest affinity for, had New Hampshire begun to grow on him?
“You’re going to put me on the spot,’’ Newman said. “It’s a great racetrack. It’s tough racing here. It’s really hard racing here compared to other racetracks we go to. Ask any driver in the garage, they’ll tell you it’s difficult to pass. Probably one of the most difficult tracks we go to. Track position is important.
“Maybe I’ve had success here in the past because of our track position and our qualifying efforts. But I’ve always liked banked racetracks. It’s always going to be in the seat of my pants, that feel. Like I said, this is a great facility. A lot of great fans, a lot of great things we’ve done up here.
“I enjoy it.’’
Five Cup poles. Three Cup wins. And a Cup qualifying record.
What’s not to enjoy?
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.