Ryan Newman and his No. 39 U.S. Army Racing team battled their way to a hard-fought ninth-place finish in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
U.S. Army driver Newman avoided being collected in a 24-car, last-lap crash as the field came to the checkered flag, battled through the wreckage and drove to his 12th top-10 of the 2012 season. It was Newman’s second consecutive top-10 finish at a superspeedway, as he showed what it means to be Army Strong.
In surviving the high-speed chess match of superspeedway racing, Newman and his team were perfect representatives of the mental, emotional and physical strength of the U.S. Army Soldier.
“I honestly believe that racing at Talladega takes a strength like none other,” said Newman, who has eight top-10 finishes in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2.66-mile oval. “Just like our Army Strong Soldiers, you have to be physically, mentally and emotionally strong to survive at Talladega. The mental part of that equation is especially important – look at how chaotic that last lap was.
“I was just in gridlock – eight rows deep and four-wide, it felt like. Our U.S. Army Chevy was probably 35th going into that final lap, and we finished ninth. It was just chaotic out there.
“There is no right way to do what we do out there, and there is no wrong way to do it other than being the one that runs out of talent. I can’t even say that my teammate (Tony Stewart) ran out of talent. He was just doing everything he could to protect himself. And so it’s a different kind of racing, if they call it that. I’m just happy that we came away with a solid top-10 finish for the Soldiers.”
Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), started on the front row at Talladega after qualifying second Saturday.
Newman and teammate Stewart ran up front for the first 10 laps of the race before dropping to the rear of the field. The goal was to avoid getting caught in any potential wrecks as the battle up front was fast and furious.
The SHR duo hung around 20th place for much of the afternoon until about 20 laps to go. At that point, Stewart made his way to the front, while Newman chose to maintain in his spot in the back for a few more laps.
Following a caution at lap 183, Newman brought his U.S. Army Chevy to the attention of his pit crew to top off with fuel for the closing laps. Once back on track, Newman assured his crew that he was going to go for the elusive victory at the 2.66-mile track.
Newman restarted in 22nd place at lap 187, and quickly made his move, going four-wide. But he couldn’t get the drafting help needed to return to the front. Mired in the back of the pack, Newman refused to give up and was battling for every spot when chaos broke out in front of him.
Thanks to Newman’s evasive maneuvers on the racetrack and spotter Jimmy Kitchens’ guidance from above on the spotter’s stand, Newman was able to avoid multiple spinning cars and flying debris to cross the finish line in ninth place.
“I have to give Jimmy a lot of credit,” Newman said. “I couldn’t see because of all the smoke and the wrecking cars, and it was hard for him to see. But he stayed calm and got me through that mess. It takes teamwork to succeed in your mission, and while we didn’t win, it feels really good to finish one of these races with an un-wrecked racecar.”
Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet for SHR, finished 22nd after enduring a spectacular crash in the final turn of the final lap while vying for the lead. Stewart walked away from accident unhurt.
Matt Kenseth won the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 to score his 23rd career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Talladega.
Jeff Gordon finished behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot as the race ended under caution. Kyle Busch, David Ragan and Regan Smith rounded out the top-five. Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski, Travis Kvapil, Newman and Jeff Burton comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 17 laps, with 17 drivers failing to finish the 189-lap race, which was extended one lap by a green-white-checkered finish.
Stewart is representing SHR in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and came into the fourth race of the 10-race Chase in fifth place among the 12 Chase drivers, 32 points behind Chase leader Keselowski. Stewart leaves Talladega seventh in the standings, 46 points behind Keselowski.
Newman climbed one spot to 14th in the standings with 865 points, 47 back of 13th-place Busch.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the fifth race of the 10-race Chase – is the Charlotte 500 on Oct. 13 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The race begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with a pre-race show at 7 p.m.