Newman Survives for Martinsville Win
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on April 1, 2012 | 4:40 P.M. EST
Ryan Newman celebrates after his first win at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver prevailed in a green-white-checkered finish to score his first victory of the season in one of the wildest finishes in recent NASCAR history.
Jeff Gordon dominated the race and was locked in an epic battle with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for the lead as the race wound down. But a late race caution bunched the field up for a restart that saw Clint Bowyer try to make a three wide move inside of Gordon and Johnson racing through turn three.
Bowyer made contact and Gordon’s car collided with Johnson’s to trigger a chain reaction accident that before it ended saw Newman slip by for the lead.
On the final two-lap shootout, Newman got the jump on A.J. Allmendinger and was able to pull away for the 16th win of his Sprint Cup career.
“Man those were some long green-flag runs,” Newman said of the bulk of Sunday’s race before the closing laps fireworks. “My left foot was ready to retire. But it was an awesome finish for us. We got circumstances there plus we were in the right position. The guys did a great job with the car.”
Allmendinger scored his best finish of the season.
“It was really good,” said the Penske Racing driver. “Obviously really happy with the finish. But more than anything, just proud of the day.
“Hopefully we can take this momentum and learn from what we learned today and take it into the off week and keep building on it going into Texas.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was in the mix for a potential win Sunday, was disappointed he wasn’t able to break his long winless drought and how Hendrick Motorsports wasn’t able to earn its 200th career Sprint Cup victory. But he was still pleased with coming home third on Sunday.
“Yeah, I'm real happy with our finish,” he said. “We worked really hard all day, all weekend really we worked hard to obviously get the best finish we could. This is our first race with AMP on the hood, and we are proud to have a good finish for those guys, had a lot of people here in weekend.”
Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five.
Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Bowyer completed the first 10 finishers.
Gordon, who had led 328 laps, and Johnson were vying for Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th career Sprint Cup Series victory. But the turn of events at the end of the dramatic race ended in bitter disappointment for both drivers.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” said Gordon. “Such a hard fought race, we had the car to beat early on for most of the race. I knew Jimmie towards the end would be tough. He always is. He proved that, but we just stalked him and stalked him and stalked him.
“I saw him start to get a little bit loose getting in. I was loose getting off. I was able to get inside of him. I wish there hadn’t of been a caution. I think we had the race right there.”
The controversial caution flag flew on lap 497 when David Reutimann, who had been driving for several laps at a slow speed, finally came to a halt on the frontstretch. Because it dramatically altered the outcome of the race, Reutimann came under fire from several drivers for not coming to pit road earlier when the problem first arose.
The Tommy Baldwin Racing driver explained his side of what transpired saying he was doing what he could to get the best possible finish.
“I don't even know how the race ended up finishing, but I just hate that I was involved in anything that changed the complexion of the race so I got to apologize to the guys that it affected,” Reutimann said. “It broke a tie rod or something like that. I was just trying to limp around there. We needed to finish next couple of laps to try to stay in the Top 35.”
Johnson was a victim of the circumstances that were created out of that late race caution and described what happened to cause the melee that took him from contention.
“There really is no successful way for it to work and today was proof of that,” Johnson said of Bowyer’s attempt at a three-wide pass. “He went for the dive-bomb and I am sure once he got in there alongside the 24 he realized that the way the curbing comes out…..there is no lane.
“There is no room when you make that move and there is plenty of room on the straight, but once you get in there it’s over the curb, into the 24, and away we went.”
Greg Biffle is still the Sprint Cup Series point leader by six over Earnhardt Jr. with Stewart, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Truex Jr. in a four-way tie for third.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night, April 14th for the Samsung Mobile 500.