Commentary

Newman, Busch guide owner Penske to first Daytona 500 victory

Ryan Newman got his first Daytona 500 win, and so did legendary owner Roger Penske. They can both thank Kurt Busch for that, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: February 18, 2008, 8:31 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Chevrolets of Hendrick Motorsports and the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing. No one else was in their league, or so the theory went all week at Daytona.

[+] EnlargeRyan Newman
AP Photo/David GrahamDaytona 500 winner Ryan Newman leads the pack with Kurt Busch protecting his lead heading to the start/finish line.

So much for theories.

The two dominant teams got beat Sunday in the 50th Daytona 500 by an organization that never had won a restrictor-plate race and a driver who hadn't won any Cup race in the two previous seasons.

Ryan Newman got last-lap help from teammate Kurt Busch and charged to the front past Tony Stewart, giving team owner and racing legend Roger Penske a long-awaited victory at Daytona.

"Without Kurt, I never would have gotten there," Newman said. "I got the push from heaven. He was a great teammate and chose to do the honorable thing. Tony blocked me hard, but when Kurt pushed me, we just struck together. It was awesome."

Stewart was in front with half a lap to go when Newman moved outside on the backstretch in front of Busch. Newman timed it perfectly. He slipped in front of Busch just as Busch was getting a run in the draft.

It easily propelled both cars past Stewart, who had no chance of stopping them. The Penske Dodges finished 1-2, thanks to Busch.

Penske's 14 Indy 500 wins is the most for any team owner in history, but he had tried for more than 30 years to win at Daytona. Bobby Allison couldn't do it for him. Neither could Rusty Wallace.

"This is special for me," Penske said "Coming down here has been tough. We've come close many times before with some great drivers, so this is unbelievable. This win goes to the top of the chart."

It came thanks to an unselfish act by a man known for his selfish behavior at times. Busch took one for the team and did the right thing for his organization.

Who knew he had it in him?

"We had big hearts, and we persevered," Busch said. "I feel we had a small part on what Ryan did today. We probably weren't good enough to win, so if all I could do was push a teammate to win, I'm very happy."

Actually, sacrificing for the team started earlier for Busch, who earlier agreed to give rookie Sam Hornish Jr. his points from last season. Hornish also had a surprising day, finishing a respectable 15th in his first Daytona 500.

Hornish was thrilled to earn a top-15. Stewart was devastated about finishing third.

"I thought I ran one of the best races of my life," Stewart said. "I just couldn't finish it off. It's hard to explain. It's probably one of the most disappointing moments of my racing career."

Increasing the agony of defeat was the fact that Busch, Stewart's archenemy, was the man who cost him his first Daytona 500 victory.

Busch and Stewart were placed on probation after an altercation on and off the track in a Daytona practice session last week. Stewart reportedly pushed Busch in the NASCAR hauler, although he never admitted it.

So seeing Busch push Newman by him on the final lap is as bad as it gets. Busch said that Stewart should have trusted him at the end.

Ryan Newman

There was a lot of talk about Toyota with Gibbs and Earnhardt with Hendrick and all the strengths they had. But I really thought we were extremely competitive. I don't look at it like we beat those guys. The most important thing is we didn't beat ourselves.

-- Ryan Newman

"I'm glad I could help my teammate," Busch said. "But if that orange car [Stewart] had jumped in front of me, it still was my best shot to finish in the top three, so I would have pushed him."

Ironically, it was the other Busch brother who had the best car most of the day. But Kyle Busch, in his first race for Gibbs, settled for fourth after leading eight times for 86 laps.

The Gibbs showing was far better than the Hendrick powerhouse could muster. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the best of the Hendrick lot, finishing ninth after winning the Bud Shootout a week ago and his qualifying race Thursday.

Jeff Gordon had a suspension failure. Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears crashed late in the race.

This was Dodge's day, as the manufacturer placed three drivers in the top 5 and six in the top 8.

Specifically, it was Penske Racing's day, including Newman crew chief Roy McCauley. He took a leave of absence last year to help his wife fight cancer, a battle McCauley has said she is winning.

McCauley's return helped Newman win for the first time in 81 Cup events. And Busch's benevolence helped Penske finally earn the one big trophy missing from his racing career.

No doubt the Gibbs and Hendrick boys will win their share this year, but the golden Daytona 500 belongs to Dodge, Penske and Newman.

"There was a lot of talk about Toyota with Gibbs and Earnhardt with Hendrick and all the strengths they had," Newman said. "But I really thought we were extremely competitive. I don't look at it like we beat those guys. The most important thing is we didn't beat ourselves."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter