Thursday, April 5, 2007

Newman overcomes early pit problems to earn top-15 finish

Monday April 2, 2007
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 12 Alltel Dodge Avenger, probably would have preferred to stay out of the pits early in Sunday’s Goody’s Cool Orange 500, as his first two stops had problems that were out of Newman’s and the Alltel team’s control.

During Newman’s first stop on lap 41, front-tire carrier Scott Reineger was hit by Juan Pablo Montoya's Dodge Avenger as he was running around to the car's right side. Reineger escaped with a bruise on his leg and was able to perform his duties during the remainder of the race.

On his second stop, Newman had to back up at the completion of the stop so he wouldn’t hit one of Montoya’s crew members. The stop cost Newman seven spots when the field went back to green.

The remaining five pit stops were less eventful and most of them ended with Newman gaining spots on pit road. When the checkered flag flew, Newman had fought his way to a 14th-place finish.

For the season, Newman moved up to a 19th-place tie with rookie David Ragan in the drivers’ standings; Newman is 61 points out of the 12th position and 377 points behind overall leader Jeff Gordon.

Newman’s started Martinsville in the 24th position after a spin during Friday’s qualifying session. For the first 55 laps of the 500-lap race, Newman hovered inside the top 25 before breaking into the top 20 on lap 56. The main balance problem for Newman the entire day was tightness in the center and loose on exit. The problem started early, but it was never too extreme for Newman to control it. Crew chief Mike Nelson and the Alltel crew made changes throughout the day that helped the balance on Newman’s car.

The yellow flag flew 13 times during the short-track race -- with the first caution period beginning on lap 5 when Casey Mears' car spun in turn four – and that gave the Alltel crew the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments to the Alltel Avenger.

Bite was what Newman wanted the most in his car. Nelson experimented with air pressure adjustments as well as changes to the wedge and track bar during the race. When Newman first started complaining about the tightness, Nelson had two pounds of air removed from the right-rear tire for the first stop, which was a two-tire stop. On the next stop, Nelson called for one pound out of the left-rear tire.

The air pressure adjustments helped the tightness in the center of the corners, but eventually, Newman’s car began to get too loose on exit and he wanted the car a little tighter in general. Nelson decided it was time to make changes to the track bar.

Newman was happy with his car by lap 245 when Kasey Kahne's Dodge spun, bringing out the seventh caution flag.

"The car is the best we’ve been all day," Newman told his crew. "We may want to go a half-round more into the left-rear, but the car is good."

Just 25 laps later, the car was good enough to break into the top 10 – where Newman would spend a majority of the last half of the race. Newman got as high as eighth and the car seemed to be getting better as the race progressed. The rain that had been predicted for the Martinsville area finally showed up late in the race and on lap 357, the red flag waved, halting the event. The rain didn’t stick around too long, though. After 31 minutes 40 seconds, NASCAR had the drivers back in their cars and running under the yellow flag.

Newman and Nelson had taken the time during the brief rain delay to discuss their strategy for the final 142 laps. They decided they only needed to make one more stop and could go the rest of the way on fuel. Newman came in for what he thought would be his final pit stop on lap 378 and took four tires and fuel; nine cars on the lead lap didn’t pit, which left Newman 15th when the green flag flew again. However, Newman came down pit road one more time on lap 430 for a track-bar adjustment, four tires and fuel. The team was hoping that fresh tires would help the car get back into the top 10 after many of the leaders decided to stay out on older tires.

The adjustments, though, brought back the tightness in the center that Newman had complained about earlier in the race and he spent the final laps racing teammate Kurt Busch and Montoya for a top-15 finish.

The Cup Series will take next weekend off for the Easter holiday before heading to Fort Worth, Texas, for the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The No. 12 Alltel Dodge Charger will return to the track, giving the COT cars a weekend off. FOX and PRN Radio will carry the race with live coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. CDT.

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