Ryan Newman turned up the “WIX” in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) put in a gutsy performance as he fought through sickness and an ill-handling racecar to finish eighth. It was Newman’s eighth top-10 finish this season and his fifth top-10 in the last six races.
Newman, who fought flu-like symptoms Sunday, was able to maintain a hold on the second of two wild-card spots in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with three races to go before the Chase begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
“I’m actually better now than I was getting into the racecar,” Newman said. “I think adrenaline takes over for most of that part. It was just a good run for the WIX Filters Chevrolet. We need to win, no doubt, but if we can manage those others guys, then we’re doing a good thing. A win is going to answer a lot of questions, and we’re all trying really hard.
“I think we had a 10th-place car today and we finished eighth, so that’s a bonus. I’m just proud of the guys – they kept working on this WIX Filters Chevrolet. We all worked hard today to have a good run and hold onto that wild card. Everything was good. We’ve just got to get great.”
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 who have 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. Newman has the 12th-place wild-card spot by virtue of his April 1 victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, combined with his 13th-place position in the point standings, which is higher than his fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points – Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano.
For Newman, Sunday’s race was an exercise of determination. He started 15th and broke into the top-10 for the first time on lap 12. Soon after that, however, Newman told crew chief Tony Gibson that the handling on his WIX Filters Chevy needed to be tighter. After just a few laps in the top-10, Newman fell back to 12th.
On lap 35, Newman pitted under green-flag conditions for four tires, fuel and wedge and air-pressure adjustments. Newman returned to the track in 21st, but his car remained “unsettled.” It started the run tight and then became loose over the course of the next green-flag run.
Despite the uncomfortable handling of the racecar, Newman had moved up to 13th by the time the caution flag waved on lap 65. Newman pitted for four tires, fuel and another air-pressure adjustment. Shortly thereafter, Newman radioed that the adjustments did not help his WIX Filters car. He told his crew that it was “way too loose” and that the adjustments they had been making were not keeping up with the changing conditions of the 2-mile oval.
Under caution on lap 88, Newman, who had been running in 18th, brought his gold-and-black Chevy back to the attention of his crew on pit lane. They executed a wedge adjustment, added fuel and changed right-side tires. He returned to the track for the lap-92 restart in 21st.
As the race wore on, loose turned out to be the theme of the day for Newman and his WIX Filters Chevrolet.
By lap 150, Newman had climbed back into the top-10. However, he told his crew he still needed to be “snugged up” in order to gain spots on the racetrack. He pitted under green on lap 165 for another wedge and air-pressure adjustment, four tires and fuel. He returned to the track in 20th.
Although Newman now had the fuel to make it to the end, the racecar was still too loose for his liking. When the caution flag waved on lap 182, Gibson opted to give up 15th place and bring Newman back down pit road to take a big swing at tightening the racecar. He pitted under caution for right-side tires and a wedge adjustment. Newman returned to the track for the restart in 13th.
The South Bend, Ind., native was determined to overcome his sickness and the loose racecar and get a top-10 finish at the track he considers home. Newman made a gutsy, three-wide move on the lap-187 restart and picked up five spots to move from 13th to eighth, which is the position he held until the checkered flag flew.
Newman’s teammate and SHR co-owner, Tony Stewart, finished 32nd after engine issues forced the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet to retire early.
Greg Biffle won the Pure Michigan 400 to score his 18th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his third at Michigan.
Brad Keselowski finished .416 of a second behind Biffle in the runner-up spot, while Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Ambrose rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Newman, Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 35 laps, with 15 drivers failing to finish the 201-lap race, which was extended one lap beyond the scheduled race distance by a green-white-checkered finish.
With round 23 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He fell one spot to ninth and has 728 points, 95 back of new series leader Biffle and one point ahead of 10th-place Denny Hamlin with a 34-point cushion over 11th-place Kahne. Newman remained 13th in the standings and has 680 points, 143 behind Biffle and 47 behind Hamlin.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Irwin Tools Night Race on Saturday, Aug. 25 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.