Late caution opens door for Newman
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Ryan Newman just flat stole it. Plain and simple.
No way should he have won the Subway Fresh Fit 600 Saturday night. Kyle Busch had this thing in the bag. He deserved it. A two-second lead over Jimmie Johnson with three laps to go looked good enough.
It wasn't. The yellow flew when Scott Riggs brushed the wall and everything changed.
Newman, who had zero chance of winning before that caution, went to Victory Lane for the first time since the 2008 Daytona 500.
"It's been a long time coming for me," Newman said. "I couldn't believe it."
No one could. Three drivers led at least 100 laps. Newman wasn't one of them.
Newman had gone 77 races without a victory. Tony Gibson earned his first Cup victory as a crew chief. Right place, right time, right decision for the No. 39 Chevy team.
For Busch, it was the yellow flag from Satan. Uh-oh. Decision time on pit road before a green-white-checkered to end it.
"It was a tough deal," said Jeff Gordon, who finished second. "I was going down the backstretch [heading to pit road] and thinking, 'I'm glad I don't have to make this call.'''
Dave Rogers, Busch's crew chief, called for four tires. So did Chad Knaus, Johnson's genius on the pit box. Busch restarted eighth and Johnson was seventh.
Busch was done. So was Johnson, although he moved up to finish third. Busch finished eighth.
He stormed off afterward, and who could blame him? He was seconds away from his first Cup victory of the season, seconds away from a weekend sweep at Phoenix International Raceway after winning the Nationwide race Friday night.
Busch and Johnson each led over 100 laps Saturday in the desert, as did Juan Pablo Montoya. One of them should have won, right?
Or what about Gordon? He got out of the pits first and took the outside lane for the final restart, which was the place to be every time the drivers hit the throttle.
Newman was on the inside lane. No chance. Or so it seemed.
"I just spun the tires,'' Gordon said. "I went to go, but as soon as the tires spun, it was over. The restart killed us in a way, but in another way, it was great because it gave us a chance to win."
It gave Busch a chance to lose. Things were different in the Nationwide race one night earlier. A late restart enabled him to win. He was 10th with 10 laps to go, but made it to the front in just three laps.
No such luck in the Cup race. There were too many top drivers in front of him and not enough laps to make up for falling back.
"Well, Kyle stole one last night, so now he's even," Newman said. "That's racing. You never know what will happen. That's why people love this stuff. There's a lot of drama."
Tony Stewart, Newman's teammate and boss at Stewart-Haas Racing, was the first person to congratulate Newman in Victory Lane.
"He told me he loved me," Newman said. "I told him I loved him, too. This was the most emotional victory of my career because it's been so long."
Newman left Penske Racing after the 2008 season to join Stewart's new operation. Stewart won six times last season. Both men made the Chase, but Newman never got to Victory Lane.
"It was tough," Newman said. "I'm not going to kid you about it. Tony won all those races. We were close, but we gave some away when we had a chance to win."
Newman and Gibson didn't make that mistake this time. Newman was fifth when the caution came out. They discussed what to do as he came to pit road.
"Tony wanted to do four [tires], but I said put two on," Newman said. "I didn't want to have a bunch of cars in front me. But Tony made the ultimate call."
They went with two right-side tires and beat out three other cars that did the same.
"I was surprised no one took any tires,'' Newman said. "Why not if you were further back? There were 26 cars on the lead lap. Then on the restart, I really didn't think I could get to the front from the inside line. It hadn't worked for me all night. You never know."
One driver went home ecstatic with a victory he didn't expect. And one went home devastated over a loss he couldn't imagine.
Newman just flat stole it. And there's nothing wrong with that, although Busch might disagree.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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