The days of one or two drivers running away from the field and dominating a race from start to finish seem to be over in the Sprint Cup Series, and it’s not because of a drop in talent. The series is loaded with talent and good enough equipment for someone to dominate, but NASCAR’s constant tinkering with the rules has finally got it to the point that you don’t want to leave your seat at the track or in front of the TV until the checkered flag finally waves.
Saturday night at Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch both led 113 laps, and Juan Pablo Montoya led 104 laps to dominate the race, but as they found out it is the last lap that you have to lead to make your way to victory lane. Ryan Newman only led four laps, but one of those was the one that counted as he won his first race of the season.
Newman’s win came courtesy of a couple of recent changes NASCAR has made in the series. Beginning last season after the all-star race in May at Charlotte, the sanctioning body said that all restarts would be double-file and the leader would get to choose which lane he started from. NASCAR also changed the way it would end a race, as it now will make up to three attempts to get a green flag finish by using the green-whitecheckered flag format.
Both of these played into the hands of Newman and his crew chief Tony Gibson on Saturday night.
Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson were battling for the win when a late race caution came out. Before this season the field would have stayed out but now, with races being extended up to three green-white-checkered restarts, the field turned down onto pit road to take on either two or four tires.
Johnson and Busch decided on four, but Jeff Gordon and Newman both opted for only two and came out of the pits in first and second place. Gordon started the race from the outside but on the restart spun his tires, giving Newman the lead as they made their way around to take the white flag. While these two were battling it out for the win, Johnson and Busch were forced to work their way through traffic, finishing in third and eighth.
The win couldn’t have been any sweeter for Newman as it broke a 77-race winless streak that stretched back to the seasonopening 2008 Daytona 500. It was also the first-ever Sprint Cup win for Gibson as the two have been together since coming to Stewart- Haas Racing at the beginning of the 2009 season.
The win did come as somewhat of a surprise. Newman has gotten off to a very slow start that included a couple of DNF’s in the first six races of the season leading up to Phoenix. He also had posted only one top-5 finish on the year and had yet to lead a single lap. Entering Saturday night, Newman was in 22nd place in the points but the win jumped him up to 16th, and more importantly, moved him within 53 points of being in the allimportant top 12 in the standings.
Carl Edwards’s seventh-place Phoenix finish made him the big mover in the points. The Roush-Fenway driver moved up six spots into eighth, 200 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Kyle Busch’s eighth-place finish moved him into the top 12. He moved up four spots to the final transfer spot for the Chase. The battle for the last couple of spots in the top 12 is beginning to heat up. There are now seven drivers within 100 points of Busch, including Mark Martin who only trails him by 11 points.
This Sunday will be the first real test for the spoiler since it replaced the wing at Martinsville. Texas Motor Speedway’s high-speed tri-oval puts a premium on a car’s aero package and the amount of downforce the car can produce. The spoiler was tested at Texas’ sister track at Charlotte, but most of the testing was done by single car runs with very little actually side-by-side racing.
Samsung Mobile 500 Track:
Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval, 24 degrees of banking in the turns) Date:
April 18, 3 p.m. TV:
PRN Defending champion: