Newman Takes 13Th At Indianapolis
July 27, 2008 | 9:42 A.M. EST
Newman is currently 16th in the 2008 NASCAR Cup driver point standings, a mere 144 points out of the 12th place “Chase cutoff” with six races to go until the NASCAR Chase for the Cup begins in September.
“I had to drive a smart race,” said Newman. “Our Alltel Dodge wasn’t the fastest race car, but it was a good consistent race car. Basically, we had 10 laps at a time to figure out our car and that’s a tough task on everyone involved. We’re satisfied with the finish, but it was a disappointing race.”
During practice on Saturday afternoon, race teams began to notice that the race car’s right side race tires were severely worn after just a handful of laps. When the race began on Sunday, NASCAR informed the teams that there would be a “competition caution” period at lap 10 due to the tire wear issues. NASCAR also notified the teams that additional “competition cautions” may occur after teams had the opportunity to inspect tires.
Newman started third for what the Indiana native and 2008 Daytona 500 winner deemed “the second biggest race of the season.” It was only on lap four of the 160-lap event when the caution flag waved for an on-track incident and the No. 12 Alltel team elected to stay track to ensure this top track position. As the race continued, Newman radioed the team that the No. 12 Dodge was experiencing a tight-handling condition from the center to the exit of the corners.
Due to the early first caution, NASCAR moved the “competition caution” period to lap 14. Under that caution period, Newman brought the Alltel Dodge to pit road for right side tires and a track bar adjustment. He returned to the track in seventh place. After the stop, Alltel team crew chief Roy McCauley radioed Newman that both of his right side tires were “corded” from the on-track action during the first 14 laps of the race.
Once under green flag conditions, Newman moved up three spots to fourth, but it was only seven laps into the run that he informed the Alltel crew that the No. 12’s “tires were shot.” Due to his tire condition, Newman lost track position and at lap 28, Newman knew that his right rear was down to the cords.
Because the race’s second competition caution was just two laps away at lap 30, Newman tried to ride it out. As soon as the competition yellow waved at lap 30, Newman radioed his crew that the No. 12 Dodge’s right rear tire blew.
Newman was able to limp to pit road without shredding the downed tire and causing damage to the Alltel Dodge. The crew changed four tires, added fuel and made track bar and air pressure adjustments. Newman returned to the track in 31st position, cautiously determined to regain lost track position due to the blown tire.
“I’m going to pass as many cars as I can, but I’m not going to push it,” Newman radioed his crew. “We’re not going to get a fuel run here because of the tires, so I just want to be careful and make sure we have a car at the end of the race.”
With tire wear still an issue, NASCAR announced they would throw another “competition caution” at lap 47. Again as the caution flag waved, Newman told his crew that the right rear tire was on cords.
Newman entered pit road in 22nd place, and the team elected to change four tires to play it safe, as well as add fuel and make an air pressure adjustment. Newman continued his fight, stating to the crew that he’d “rather lose position now and have a race car later in the day.”
Returning to the track in 18th spot, Newman was told by crew chief McCauley that the No. 12’s right rear tire was severely worn, but that the right fronts were starting to look better than in previous runs.
Due to continued tire wear issues across almost all of the teams competing at the Brickyard, NASCAR continued to call “competition cautions” about every 11 green-flag laps. After each run, NASCAR took the time to examine the teams’ tires in order to determine wear patterns and determine when the next “competition caution” period would begin.
It was at lap 97 when another “competition caution” period started, and at that point Newman was up to 17th place. As the yellow flag waved, Newman told his crew that his right rear tire was once again getting ready to blow, but the car felt good overall.
Crew chief McCauley brought the No. 12 machine to the pits and elected to gain track position, changing two tires and adding fuel. Newman returned to the track in seventh place.
Although the strategy appeared to work, when the green flag waved Newman slid back through the field due to too-low tire air pressure. “It’s a handful,” said Newman to the No. 12 team. “I can’t get going and I can’t keep it going.”
To alleviate this problem, McCauley told Newman that the team would change the air pressures to the settings that were used at the start of the race at the next caution. At lap 121, another yellow flag waved, with Newman holding fast in 15th place. Newman came down pit road and the Alltel team changed four tires with the modified air pressure adjustments and added fuel. The No. 12 Dodge restarted in 15th place.
As the race wound down, McCauley radioed Newman that they would need to pit for only right side tires in each of the final two scheduled “competition cautions” of the race in order to gain track position. When the caution flag waved on lap 138, the Alltel team implemented that strategy and Newman pitted for two tires, fuel and another air pressure adjustment. The strategy call and a quick pit stop moved Newman up to sixth place.
Although the No. 12 Dodge began the green-flag run in the top-10, Newman began to experience a loose-handling condition during the run, dropping him to 13th place at lap 150, where he would finish the race 10 laps later.
“We had a good race car,” said Newman after the event ended. “We just didn’t get the chance to race it out there. We all had to play it safe and we all had to drive smart. It’s just a disappointing way to have to run such a big race. But it was a good points day for us, and that’s what we need right now to make the Chase.”
Newman’s Penske Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish Jr. finished 40th and 21st, respectively.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday afternoon, August 3, for the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. The race can be seen live on ESPN at 1 p.m. ET and heard on the MRN radio network at 1:15 p.m. ET.