By admin | May 18, 2009
By Richard Allen
Stewart Haas Racing had a great night at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway on Saturday. Tony Stewart won the Sprint All Star Challenge and collected a $1 million paycheck for his efforts.
The results may have been far different in not for the efforts of Stewart’s teammate, Ryan Newman.
As the cars neared the end of the first segment, a run of 50 laps, Newman was in all sorts of trouble. His car was noticeably dragging something as it moved around the track. Sparks flew from underneath the #39 car and the lap times had fallen off dramatically.
Newman had already lost one lap and was dangerously close to losing another. Leader Jimmie Johnson pulled up to the bumper of Newman’s struggling Chevrolet with less than five laps to go in the segment.
Johnson had what seemed to be a comfortable lead in the segment and did not appear to want to push the issue. Newman desperately fought to stay only one lap in arrears. Since there were no other cars a lap down Newman would be in line to receive the ‘Lucky Dog’ award once the yellow flag flew.
Going down two laps would mean that Newman would only be allowed to make up one lap and would still be one lap down when the next segment started.
Whether Johnson did not exert himself to pass Newman’s ailing car or whether there was some sort of deal struck between these pseudo teammates, Johnson stayed behind Newman and just barely held on to win segment number one.
That turned out to be a critical moment in the race.
By the time of the final 10 lap segment Newman’s crew had his car repaired running as fast or faster than anyone else on the track. At the start of the race’s final dash for the cash several drivers made bold moves to put themselves in position to grab the $1 million first prize. Perhaps the boldest of all was Newman.
As Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch raced side by side, Newman roared up on the outside as the cars made their way through turns 3 & 4 of the 1.5 mile speedway. By the time the cars exited turn 4 their luck and racing room had run out. The three banged off one another which eventually sent Gordon spinning.
Even though Newman nor Busch spun, their cars had sustained enough damage to end any real hopes of winning the race.
Stewart and Matt Kenseth went on to wage battle for the big money.
However, the story could have been much different had Johnson only lapped Newman for a second time when he had the chance. Newman’s crew was even considering parking his car because it was running so badly. Had he lost that additional lap they may have elected to do so.
Instead, Newman essentially made up 3 miles under one caution period. His crew made repairs and he was able to race through the field. Had all of this not occurred he would not have been in position to go three wide when he did. It is likely that Kyle Busch and Gordon would have gone on to settle the issue among themselves.
Jimmie Johnson’s inability or choice not to lap Ryan Newman may have cost his real teammate, Jeff Gordon, $1 million. But one thing is for sure, it made those last ten laps worth staying up for.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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