Another race has gone by in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and Ryan Newman’s chances of being part of the Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway continue to grow.
Newman picked up his second Top-5 of the 2014 Chase today at Martinsville Speedway, following winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon through a wild restart with five laps to go and finishing third.
With one of the three automatic bids to the Championship erased thanks to Earnhardt’s victory, Newman finds himself second behind Gordon on the Chase Grid going to the Eliminator Round’s middle race next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I’m really surprised that we made it to the end without another caution,” Newman said of the frantic run to the finish. “…We were fortunate to make it up from eighth to third there. Had a pretty good restart. Got down to the bottom when I needed to. Those guys were kind of all jumbled up.
“I got into the back of Clint [Bowyer] a little bit there. I apologize to him. But I had the 22 [Joey Logano] pushing me all the way through the corner. I don’t know there was a whole lot I could have done any different.”
Thanks to today’s outcome, at least two of the final four Championship positions will be decided on points. That could prove to be big for Newman, who remains winless but has become a fixture up front (five consecutive Top-10 finishes) at the most important stretch of the season.
“It’s played to our advantage the entire time as far as not having a win, not having bonus points [for a win],” he said. “Even if you’re 8 of 12 or 16, you’re still getting caught up, making free points that they’re giving you to be tied to the next bracket.
“It’s been to our advantage the whole entire time. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be from the drop of the green in Texas or from the drop of the green in Homestead. [But] it has played to our advantage mathematically, no doubt.
“We were the 16th seed coming in without a win. We’ve not won yet. We were tied for the lead in the points with four races to go. So mathematically it has played to my advantage – as [it has] others, but probably mine mostly.”
Newman had to work for this one today, though. He had climbed up to ninth when a caution came out at Lap 188. But both himself and Gordon (who was the race leader) were tagged for speeding in the pits during the subsequent round of yellow-flag stops.
Newman took the Lap 206 restart in 31st, one spot behind Gordon. But by Lap 300, both men had rocketed back into the Top 10.
The next hundred laps saw Newman fall back outside the Top 10 with a tight-handling car but return there when adjustments in the pits paid off.
Following the brief red flag with 11 laps to go for Kyle Larson and Marcos Ambrose’s crash, Newman was called into the pits for fuel and two tires. While Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and David Ragan stayed out to take over first, second, and third, Newman was fifth off of pit road – slotting in eighth for the final restart.
But the two-tire call proved huge in the end for Newman and the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team.
“The strategy of two tires there at the end worked out good for us,” Newman said. “Right number of laps with the guys that stayed out, kept the guys behind us that had four tires.
“Great team effort. I put our team in a hole when I sped on pit lane, which doesn’t happen very often. It did today. It cost us a lot of track position, same time that the 24 [Gordon] did. We come back to finish second and third together 300 laps later.”