Fist win of '05 shoots Newman up the standings


LOUDON, N.H. -- Ryan Newman stole a race Tony Stewart thought was his.

Newman, who barely squeezed into the Chase for the Nextel Cup,
got off to a fast start in NASCAR's 10-race playoff
Sunday by outdueling points leader Stewart down the stretch to win
the Sylvania 300.

Stewart, who started from the pole, dominated through much of
the race, leading 173 of the 300 laps in the Sylvania 300 at New
Hampshire International Speedway. But Newman won a late battle with Stewart,
passing him on lap 299 and holding the top spot by two car-lengths.

"Tony wasn't happy with the balance of his car at the end,"
said Newman, who led 66 laps. "His car was going away at the right
time for me. It was going away faster than mine. But that's the
best racing I've seen at this track."

Following the final pit stops by the leaders, Newman found
himself just ahead of Stewart when the green flag waved with 16 laps
to go after the last of 10 caution flags.

The streaking Stewart, on the way to his 13th consecutive finish
of eighth or better, was relentless in trying to retake the lead,
pulling up to the rear quarterpanel of Newman's Penske Racing South
Dodge time after time before finally slipping below him on the
backstretch on lap 292.

But Newman, whose last win came a year ago in Dover, Del., wouldn't
give up. He stayed with Stewart, got beneath the Joe Gibbs Racing
Chevrolet on lap 299 and pulled ahead, staying out front to win by

Chase contenders Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finished third and
fourth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is out of the Chase but
running his first race with Tony Eury Jr. back as his crew chief.

"Tony and I are a good combination," said fan favorite
Earnhardt, who has struggled through a disappointing season. "And
we're going to try to work toward next year. These next nine races
are real important and we're going to try to build on that."

Newman was ecstatic, finally breaking through for a win after
season-long struggles -- and doing it in the biggest race so far
this season.

"That was a long time without a Cup win," said Newman, who
drove part-time in the Busch Series this season and got a big boost
by winning three straight races at one point.

"It felt so good to be able to win in the Busch Series and win
three races over there. That builds confidence in a driver," he

As for his battle with Stewart, Newman said, "I know his car
wasn't as well balanced at the end as it was earlier. Getting back
by him was a lot easier than him getting by me because I was giving
him everything I could. I just did exactly the same thing to him
that he did to me."

Stewart was philosophic about losing the race in such a great

"I got used up a little bit on running on the high side, but
that was a good race," he said. "But that was some kind of short
track racing right there. That's the way the Chase should start
just like that.

"Ryan did an awesome job. We just couldn't hold him off at the

It was Newman's 12th career win and, more important, moved him
from 10th in the standings -- a position he barely grabbed with a
12th-place finish last week in Richmond, Va., -- to a tie for third with
teammate Rusty Wallace, both of them trailing Stewart by 40 points
and Greg Biffle by 20.

Wallace finished sixth, with Chase contenders Mark Martin seventh, Jimmie Johnson eighth,
Jeremy Mayfield 16th, Carl Edwards 19th and defending champion Kurt
Busch, involved in a crash on the second lap of the race, 35th.

Busch, who started his charge toward his title with a victory
here last year in the opener of the inaugural Chase, was sent
spinning into the wall in a collision with Scott Riggs on the
second lap.

The furious champion drove his battered, smoking car to the
garage, then strode to Riggs' pits, where he climbed up the pit box
and spoke for a few moments to Riggs' crew chief Rodney Childers.

Asked what Busch said to him, Childers said, "They've had some
past experiences with stuff. He took us out at Indy and we forgave
them. This was an accident and he'll have to forgive us."

Busch then stalked back to the garage, where his team worked
furiously to get the car repaired. Busch, who began the day in
fifth place, just 20 points behind Stewart, finally returned to the
race on lap 68, 66 laps behind the leaders. With the help of
attrition, Busch worked his way up from 43rd to 35th, a difference
of 24 points.

Tempers flared in the crash-filled race and Kasey Kahne, Michael
Waltrip and Robby Gordon were all called into the NASCAR Hauler to
be reprimanded following the race.

Kahne drove into Kyle Busch on purpose after Busch put him in
the wall, and Gordon tried to back into Waltrip after they
collided, sending Gordon into the wall. Gordon missed, but stood on
the track waiting for Waltrip and threw his helmet at Waltrip's car
as he drove by.

"I think you're going to see some pretty stiff penalties coming
out of this, probably by Tuesday at the earliest," said NASCAR
spokesman Jim Hunter.

Asked why Kurt Busch was not called to the hauler, Hunter said,
"He told our officials what he was going to do and he conducted
himself in a professional manner."