A lap down early, Newman finds a way
Newman led NASCAR's Nextel Cup series with eight victories a year ago, but had not finished better than third this season before winning the DHL 400 -- the 15th race of the year -- on Michigan's fast 2-mile oval.
It didn't look like this was going to be Newman's day either, after the radiator on the front of his Penske Racing South Dodge became blocked by trash early in the race. The engine overheated, forcing Newman to make a green flag pit stop on the 22nd of 200 laps.
"We just picked up some paper or something and had to make a stop,'' Newman said. "It's better to be safe than sorry. After that, we just had to work our way forward.''
Newman regained the lead lap near the midway point in the race and steadily worked his way forward, passing Dale Jarrett for the lead on a restart on lap 178.
Nine different drivers had won here in the last nine races, but Newman, who won here last August, ended that streak. He became the first driver to win back-to-back races at MIS since Mark Martin in August 1997 and June 1998. It was the 10th victory of his Cup career.
Jarrett, who held on to finish third for his first top-five finish since he won at Rockingham in the second race of 2003, was unable to stay with Newman at the end. He couldn't hold off hard-charging rookie Kasey Kahne for the runner-up spot on lap 199.
Sterling Marlin finished sixth after having one of the strongest cars all day and leading several times. Marlin fell out of contention when he pitted for the final time under caution on lap 176.
Jarrett took the lead and Newman moved to second when both chose to stay on the track and gamble on going the rest of the way without changing tires or adding gas. Both had pitted on lap 152.
After two weeks of confusion and controversy over scoring problems and miscues by NASCAR officials, Sunday's race came off without a hitch. But there were some questions when a caution flag came out on the final lap with the crashed car of P.J. Jones sitting in the middle of the track in turn two, far behind the leaders.
NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said the yellow was waved because there were at least six cars racing on the track behind Jones' wreck and NASCAR did not want to delay the safety crew from reaching him. Jones was not injured.
"I'm glad the fans saw a noncontroversial race and a great race,'' said Elliott Sadler, Jarrett's Robert Yates Racing teammate, who finished fifth after running near the front most of the day.
The final yellow flag kept Newman from having to deal with the fast-closing Kahne. The 24-year-old Evernham Motorsports driver, still looking for his first win, came up with his fourth second-place finish of the season after also charging back from losing a lap early with handling problems.
"We were on newer tires, so I think at any time we could have caught him,'' Kahne said. "We were pretty darn good there at the end. If it had gone to the finish, I would have come up about a car length short.''
Jimmie Johnson finished fourth and moved ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. by seven points in the season standings. Junior struggled most of the day, lost a late gamble on a two-tire stop and finished 21st.
Seventh-place went to defending series champion Matt Kenseth, followed by Bobby Labonte, rookie Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip.
Kurt Busch, last year's race winner, finished 11th.
It looked for a while like pole winner Jeff Gordon was going to run away with the race. He led 81 of the first 88 laps before the engine in his Chevrolet blew up in a cloud of white smoke.
"We're making such great power these days and we've got the reliability,'' Gordon said of his Hendrick Motorsports team. "Unfortunately, that wasn't the case today.''
Tony Stewart also had a difficult day after being penalized and sent to the rear of the 43-car field for the start for leaving the prerace drivers meeting early. The former series champion worked his way back to the top 10, but crashed with Greg Biffle on lap 193, bringing out one of the nine caution flags in the race.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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