Friday, May 18, 2007

2002 All-Star: Rookie gives us first glimpse of Rocket

There wasn't anything the competition could throw at rookie Ryan Newman -- including a helmet -- that could keep him from winning the 2002 The Winston.

Newman was the longest of longshots, winning a qualifying race just to make the field. His victory was worth $750,000.

"Man, I had to drive the wheels off of it to win this thing," Newman said. "It's pretty cool."

With the field cut to 20 cars following the first segment, and then 10 for the final 20-lap sprint, Newman was able to maneuver his way through traffic to survive and advance.

However, Elliott Sadler didn't take kindly to Newman's aggressiveness, and after spinning out in the second segment, took matters into his own ... hand. Sadler launched his helmet at Newman's car during the caution.

"I'd like to apologize to my sponsor for the way I acted," Sadler said. "I probably shouldn't have done that but this is The Winston and I wanted to win this thing."

Another rookie, Jimmie Johnson, won the first two segments -- but he and Bill Elliott needed some luck after both cars went down a lap after unscheduled stops early in the first segment. It came when Ward Burton ran into the back of Sterling Marlin's car as Marlin slowed to make his mandatory pit stop.

"I don't know what Ward's problem was, I guess you'll have to ask him," Marlin said. "We were just minding our own business down the back straightaway and he just got against us and turned us head on into the fence. It was pretty uncalled for."

Sadler's helmet toss was the highlight of the second segment -- and the field was inverted for the final 20 laps, with Newman fourth behind Tony Stewart. Newman wasted little time getting to the lead and built an advantage of three seconds when Kurt Busch spun Robby Gordon.

That bunched the field with five laps remaining. Newman thought he had the field covered on the restart, but NASCAR officials determined Newman jumped the green flag and waved it off. Given another chance, Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- on newer tires -- sliced his way through traffic and quickly closed on Newman.

At one point, Newman got loose but Junior decided not to press the issue.

"I let off because I didn't want to spin him out," Earnhardt said. "And that was the end of the race."

Newman obviously appreciated the gesture.

"That was just good, hard racing," Newman said. "He had four tires that were fresher than mine, and that makes a big difference.

"He caught me with about two laps to go, cut underneath me a couple of times but couldn't complete the pass. We had to work hard for everything tonight."

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