By Justin Whitaker firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — SPEEDWAY — Sometimes two is better than four.
Ryan Newman won the 20th Annual Crown Royal Presents The Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard after late pit strategy where two tires put him ahead of the dominant Jimmie Johnson’s four tires.
The South Bend, Ind. native and pole-sitter won at his hometown track for the first time and it was Newman’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory in 49 races.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Newman, who led 45 laps. “I can’t wait to push my lips on those bricks.”
Crew chief Matt Borland made the call to take two tires on Newman’s No. 39 Quicken Loans Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet with 26 laps to go on a green flag pit stop. That decision proved to be the winning one for the 35-year-old driver.
“We knew we had to do something to win the race,” Borland said.
Newman led the last 11 laps after Brad Keselowski was the final driver to cycle through pit stops. Johnson trailed the pole sitter by 3.599 seconds after Newman took the lead. But the five-time Sprint Cup champion never could get closer than the 2.657-second margin of victory at the end. Johnson finished in second place after leading a race-high 73 laps.
“Today we were awfully close,” Johnson said. “These things are so hard to win. Having a race-winning car like we did, I hate to let this opportunity slip by, but it’s gone, not a lot we can do about it, but we’ll come back next year and try to do it again.”
After appearing to have the race in hand, Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet took four tires on the lap before Newman’s final stop. The 16.9 second pit stop was roughly five seconds longer than the average of his previous three stops.
“We win as a team, lose as a team,” Johnson said. “There’s been some late-race mistakes on my behalf that have taken race wins away from us. Granted not a major event like this.”
Kasey Kahne finished third and hometown favorite Tony Stewart (Columbus, Ind.) placed fourth.
Stewart, Newman’s car owner and friend, greeted the Brickyard winner with a large bear hug in Victory Lane. The two-time winner of the Brickyard said earlier in the week he would be just as thrilled if one his drivers won the race as if he did. After it did actually happen Sunday, Stewart echoed those sentiments.
“When we were little, this was the place. This is where we wanted to be,” Stewart said. “We knew what Daytona was, but this was the place for us as Hoosiers here. To see him get one, I’m glad our last trip to the Brickyard together as teammates, we’re sitting here watching him kiss the bricks today.”
Sunday’s victory adds to an all ready impressive resume for Newman who is without a job next season. It was announced two weeks ago that the 2008 Daytona 500 champion and winner of 50 career poles would not be returning to Stewart-Haas Racing next season.
Newman’s value as a free agent increases with the win as he now has trophies from the two crown jewels of NASCAR’s schedule.
Sunday should serve as a healthy reminder for NASCAR team owners looking for a driver next season that Newman is available.
“Obviously, it’s helped,” Newman said. “Emotions have been a roller coaster.”
Matt Kenseth finished fifth in his Dollar General Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, the only non Hendrick Motorsports car to finish in the top seven.
“We had really, really great pit stops from my Dollar General crew and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) made a great call to get us some track position,” Kenseth said. “That’s really what got us our Top 5. We didn’t have a car that good today.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and four-time 400 winner Jeff Gordon placed sixth and seventh respectively in their Hendrick-powered Chevrolets.
Rookie Danica Patrick finished 30th, one lap down.