Clean air, fast car combine
for another Ryan Newman win
Pocono victory is driver's 4th of '03
By DAVID POOLE
The Charlotte Observer
LONG POND, Pa. - Pocono at wins Newman Ryan.
Read that sentence backward and you'll understand the bottom line on Sunday's Pennsylvania 500. You'll also get some practice at the new kind of thinking it takes to follow Winston Cup racing these days.
Once again, reverse logic ruled the day as Newman took his Dodge to his fourth victory of the 2003 season and his second in three weeks.
The 25-year-old from South Bend, Ind., started from the pole in his Dodge and led 44 of the first 50 laps. What mattered, though, was that Newman led the final 44 laps on yet another day when the winner's success hinged on a strategy that put his car in the clean air that's found out front when it counted most.
Newman's early dominance was just the first sign of how much easier it was for a car to run out front. While Newman led by more than 5 seconds at times during that early run, when pit strategies shuffled him back following a round of pit stops under the first yellow, the No.12 was suddenly very ordinary.
Newman stayed close enough, however.
Only four of the day's 18 lead changes came between cars racing heads-up at green-flag speeds, and the move that settled the outcome of this one happened under caution on pit stops on Lap 154.
That's when Newman and his crew chief, Matt Borland, elected to change two tires on what would turn out to be their final pit stop. From his stall at the Turn 1 end of pit road, Newman lurched across the scoring line ahead of everyone else. He had the lead and, thanks in no small part to 14 more fuel-stretching caution laps before the end of the day, his fifth career victory.
"I knew we needed some caution laps and I was doing the best I could to save some fuel and, yet, at the same time stay out front," Newman said. "But those two things are contradictory and hard to do.
"...It all depends on how fast the guy in second is vs. how fast I am. Instead of running away, you just maintain a gap...and don't burn extra fuel."
Complicating matters somewhat was that the identity of guy in second kept changing on Newman.
On the restart on Lap 159 it was teammate Rusty Wallace on his rear bumper, but when Wallace pitted on a subsequent caution instead of risking it on fuel, Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved into second.
Finally, on Lap 191, it was Kurt Busch who got around Earnhardt Jr. and mounted a stern yet eventually fruitless challenge over the final laps. Busch's Ford was faster in Turn 1 of the three-cornered track, but Newman could hold his own in the Tunnel Turn (2) and was just enough better off the final turn to prevent any late reversal of fortunes.
"Last year when we got beat in the second race here we got beat off of Turn 1," said Busch, who was second to Bill Elliott in Pocono's July race last season. "This time we worked on Turn 1 and got beat off Turn 3."
An early race problem with the swaybar on Busch's Ford had dropped him to 33rd at one point, but he and crew chief Jimmy Fennig timed their pit strategies well enough to get him back into contention and snap a streak of four straight finishes outside the top 10.
Newman and his team Without crashes by Casey Mears and Bobby Labonte in the final 35 laps, Newman likely wouldn't have had the fuel he would have needed to finish without stopping for more fuel. The caution laps, however, gave him the cushion he eventually needed to fend off Busch's final charge.
"They gave me the go-ahead on that last restart that I was good with fuel," Newman said. "I just put the pedal to the metal and did the best job I could, which was apparently good enough."
Good enough was an adequate way to describe points leader Matt Kenseth's day, too.
Kenseth finished 13th in his Ford while Jeff Gordon, who came into the day second in the points and 234 behind Kenseth, crashed his Chevrolet and wound up 36th. Earnhardt Jr. passed teammate Michael Waltrip in the waning laps to get third and moved back past Gordon to second, but is still 232 points back.
It could have been better for Kenseth, though, as his team took a decidedly cautious strategy down the stretch, pitting twice in the final 35 laps.
"We had a second- or third-place car and finished 13th with it," Kenseth said. "You can't do that, you give away too many points. When you play conservative, that's when you get bit. They said that's all the fuel we had, but I don't know. Everybody else made it. ...We need to look that over.
"I'm just mad. I don't care where the everybody else finishes. I feel like we're running good enough to beat those guys."
Terry Labonte ran well all day and finished a solid fifth, with Jeff Burton, Joe Nemechek, Todd Bodine, Dave Blaney and Sterling Marlin rounding out the top 10.