What was shaping up to be a solid run for Ryan Newman and the No. 39 Outback Steakhouse Racing team in the Irwin Tools Night Race on Saturday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway came to a disappointing and sudden end. Newman’s left rear tire went flat on lap 189, sending the No. 39 Chevy spinning off of turn four and crashing into the outside retaining wall before being hit by another car as he came back across the racetrack.
Newman walked away from the incident unharmed, but the racecar and the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing team’s chances at earning a third berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in four seasons took a beating.
Newman’s car was heavily damaged in the crash, and he was unable to return to the racetrack. That resulted in a 36th-place finish, dropping Newman to 15th in points and out of the wild-card spot with two races to go before the Chase begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
“The crash drove the frame into the motor, and the Outback Steakhouse Chevy was just too far gone to get it back out there,” crew chief Tony Gibson said after examining the wrecked racecar. “Ryan just said somebody got into the left rear of him and cut the left-rear tire. The lap before that he started getting really loose, and then the very next lap, it just turned around on him. By the time we saw it, he had already spun. It’s a shame.
“The Outback Steakhouse is a great sponsor. We had finally gotten some track position to do something with it and we were a little bit tight, but we thought we’d be OK. It’s just misfortune. But we can’t let this get us down. We’ve seen how one race can change this whole deal on who makes the Chase. We’re not giving up. We’ll fight to the bitter end.”
Only the top-10 in points are locked into the 12-driver, 10-race Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. In the event of multiple drivers having the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kasey Kahne holds the 11th-place wild-card spot thanks to his two victories, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Kyle Busch vaulted into the 12th-place wild-card spot after Bristol due to his victory April 28 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, combined with his 13th position in the point standings, which is higher than his fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points – Jeff Gordon, Newman, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano.
After qualifying was rained out Friday, Newman started 19th based on the fastest lap he posted during the day’s practice session, per the NASCAR rulebook. Early in the running of the 500-lap race, Newman fought a tight-handling racecar.
But following a series of adjustments under caution – a wedge adjustment at lap 85 and track bar adjustment at lap 124 – Newman told his crew that his racecar was much better.
When the caution waved at lap 148, Gibson told Newman to stay out, which helped the Outback Chevy gain track position. Newman moved up from 22nd- to 10th-place thanks to varying pit strategies. South Bend, Ind., native Newman told his crew chief he believed he had a fast racecar, and good track position would help him showcase the strength of their Outback Chevy.
But Newman didn’t get that chance. At lap 187, Newman radioed his crew that he thought the rubber building up on the racetrack was making him loose. Two laps later, Newman asserted again that his car was suddenly loose.
Within seconds, Gibson told his driver that a deflating left-rear tire was causing the loose handling condition. Gibson had barely finished those words when Newman’s maroon-and-cream Outback Chevy spun in front of them exiting turn four and careened into the outside wall. As he came back across the track, Newman was tagged by Juan Pablo Montoya.
The incident ended Newman’s night.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, finished 27th. Stewart was involved in an accident with Matt Kenseth on lap 334 and went on to complete only 471 laps.
SHR driver Danica Patrick, who is driving the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing via a collaborative agreement with SHR, finished 29th after an accident with Regan Smith on lap 434 that damaged her car too extensively to continue.
Denny Hamlin won the Irwin Tools Night Race to score his 20th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his first at Bristol.
Jimmie Johnson finished 1.103 seconds behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Gordon, Brian Vickers and Ambrose rounded out the top-five. Busch, Clint Bowyer, Logano, Kahne and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 13 caution periods for 87 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
With round 24 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He fell one spot to 10th and has 746 points, 103 back of series leader Greg Biffle and 16 points ahead of 11th-place Kahne. Newman fell two positions to 15th and has 688 points, 161 behind Biffle and 58 behind 10th-place Stewart.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the AdvoCare 500 on Sunday, Sept. 2 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 6:30 p.m.