Ryan Newman and the No. 39 U.S. Army Racing Team showed just how tenacious they are by battling back from a flat right-rear tire to finish 11th in the Finger Lakes 355k at The Glen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
The hard-fought result, which included gaining four positions in the closing laps to nab his fifth top-12 result in 11 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course, vaulted Newman into the second wild-card spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with four races to go before the Chase begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill
“I’m really proud of this entire U.S. Army Racing Team,” said Newman, who has finished 11th or better in the last five Sprint Cup races. “We had some misfortune early with the tire that got cut, but this U.S. Army team didn’t miss a beat. Just like our Army Strong Soldiers, we’re a determined bunch, and we’re not going to give up.
“We were fortunate to work our way back up toward the front. I really think we had a car that was a little better than where we finished, but in the end it was a good day for us in the points, which was what we needed to make the Chase. That’s our mission, and we’re going to have to fight it out these next four races.”
Only the top-10 in points are locked into the 12-driver, 10-race Chase. Positions 11 and 12 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 assumed the 12th-place wild-card spot by virtue of his April 1 victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, combined with his 13th 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.
Finishing well – in the Finger Lakes 355k at The Glen and in the race to make the Chase – begins by qualifying well, and after qualifying sixth on Saturday, Newman was confident his U.S. Army Chevrolet would be a solid performer in Sunday’s 90-lap race. But Newman also knew he would need a clean race, which almost didn’t happen.
A scheduled pit stop on lap 16 went flawlessly. The early stop was part of the team’s overall race strategy, but it was a strategy that would be foiled a few laps later.
When the caution flag waved on lap 27, it played into Newman’s hands. Crew chief Tony Gibson told his driver to stay out under the caution, and when everyone who hadn’t yet pitted ducked onto pit road for much-needed fuel and tires, Newman stayed out and shrewdly moved up from 24th to fifth place.
But as Newman lapped the undulating road course under caution, he keyed his radio and asked his spotter to look at his right-rear tire. It felt like it was going flat. Spotter Jimmy Kitchens confirmed Newman’s suspicions.
The flat right-rear tire forced Newman to give up his fifth-place spot and pit just as the rest of the field was restarting the race on lap 29. Newman’s crew changed four tires, added fuel and got Newman back on track, but he was mired in 33rd place.
The adversity might have put Newman and his U.S. Army Racing Team down, but they were not out. Gibson told his driver to “run hard and pass as many cars” as he could to climb back up the leaderboard.
Newman responded. By lap 50, he had moved into the top-25. Seven laps later, he was in the top-20.When the caution flag waved at lap 59, Newman had moved into 12th place.
But as he came down pit road, another bit of misfortune struck – Newman radioed that he was out of gas. Fortunately, Newman was able to coast into his pit stall. The crew quickly worked to change four tires and fuel the car, and despite the potential hiccup, Newman and his U.S. Army crew didn’t miss a beat. The pit stop was clean and Newman returned to the track in 15th place.
With less than 30 laps to go, Newman and his U.S. Army Chevy were on a mission. He maneuvered through the field and was able to survive three restarts and an oiled-down track in the race’s closing laps to pick up four spots and finish 11th.
Ambrose put himself in wild card contention for the Chase by winning the Finger Lakes 355k at The Glen. Winless prior to Sunday, Ambrose scored his second career Sprint Cup victory and his second in a row at Watkins Glen.
Brad Keselowski finished .571 of a second behind Ambrose in the runner-up spot while Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top-five. Greg Biffle, Busch, Matt Kenseth, Regan Smith and Martin Truex Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Newman’s Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate, Tony Stewart, finished 19th in the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy after recovering from a late-race spin.
There were four caution periods for 13 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish.
With round 22 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He fell two spots to eighth and has 716 points, 61 back of new series leader Johnson and six points ahead of ninth-place Kevin Harvick with a 63-point cushion over 11th-place Kasey Kahne. Newman improved one position to 13th and has 644 points, 133 behind Johnson and 49 behind 10th-place Denny Hamlin.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday, Aug. 19 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at noon.