Monday, July 9, 2007

Newman Takes 14th In Season's Third Restrictor-Plate Race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 7, 2007) – With eight races remaining before the Chase for the Championship begins, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman continued to inch closer to this year's cutoff position with their performances in Saturday's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Kurt Busch, who finished third in his Miller Lite Dodge Charger, and Ryan Newman, who placed 14th in his Alltel Dodge Charger, cut their deficits to the 12th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. in half. Busch, in 15th, trails Earnhardt by 121 points, while Newman, in 14th, is only 61 points behind the third-generation driver.

“That’s a huge gain there, but a lot of it was due to the No. 8 car [Earnhardt] having their problems and finishing on back there [38th],” Busch said. “Tonight really worked to close things up all the way around. The bottom line is that we do not just have to focus on catching Dale Jr.; it’s becoming a tight battle between a lot of teams hoping to make the cut.”

Newman and Busch started 14th and 16th, respectively, since the grid was determined by car owner points due to rain interrupting qualifying. The Penske Racing teammates quickly moved into the top 10, and from the race's beginning, they had good luck riding in their Dodge Chargers.

When a five-car accident occurred on the frontstretch on lap 14, Newman and Busch were among the first to dive down pit road to avoid the crashing cars. When the race restarted on lap 20 of the 160-lap event, Newman was sixth and Busch was 14th. Busch cracked the top 10 for the first time on lap 27 and remained there for the rest of the event on the 2.5-mile track.

Busch and Newman drafted together for much of the event, with Busch, his younger brother Kyle, and Newman forming a freight train on the inside lane at one point.

By lap 76, Busch had maneuvered his way into second. He took the lead for the first time on lap 78 when then leader Clint Bowyer fell off the pace with ignition problems. Busch set the pace for the next 31 laps before pitting on lap 109 during a round of green-flag stops. When the stops sequenced around three laps later, Busch was back in the lead and Newman was seventh.

When the fifth of eight caution flags waved on lap 115, Busch and Newman elected not to pit since they had only six laps on their tires. That decision left Busch second and Newman fifth on the restart.

Busch continued to run in the top five, but with 38 laps remaining, Newman, who was then fourth, got shuffled backwards. He dropped out of the top 10, falling as far as 17th before fighting his way back to the front.

With 15 laps remaining, Newman had again reached the top 10, but he was unable to maintain the position and had to settle for a 14th-place finish.

“We started 14th, finished 14th and fell to 14th in the standings," Newman said. "The only good result was we’re only 61 points out of 12th now and we entered the race 127 out of 12th. It’s going to be tough, but we really want to qualify for The Chase. We had a good car tonight, but we didn’t get a good finish with it. We’ll try to bounce back and get ‘em next week in Chicago.”

While Newman was fighting for a top-10 finish, Busch was battling for a victory in the last restrictor-plate race for the Dodge Charger. Busch aligned himself with his younger brother on the low side, while Carl Edwards positioned himself behind Jamie McMurray in the high line. They raced that way, side-by-side, nose-to-tail for the final two laps around the mammoth facility before McMurray edged ahead of the younger Busch for the second closest finish in NASCAR history. Kurt Busch inched by Edwards for third.

“I’m real proud of this team and real proud of this year," Busch said. "It feels good to come to a plate track and do well. We definitely came back strong to Daytona, looking for a good finish after the Daytona 500 didn’t turn out like we wanted. To build a car five months in advance with more downforce, we felt like that was the way to go.

"We were really strong on the long runs … [but] long runs were minimal tonight with yellows early and yellows late. Everybody was real strong at the end. We expected everybody to be out there three wide and never lifting. That’s what’s so exciting at these plate tracks. For me to finish third, it feels great to do that. It would have been great to win it, but we’re real happy with that."

Busch also praised crew chief Pat Tryson, who was in his third race with the Miller Lite team.

"Pat Tryson is an experienced crew chief," Busch said. "He’s confident in his pit calls. This was the first car he got his hands on. Our Sonoma car and Loudon car had already been built and setup and put on the trailer. This one here he was able to put some ideas into.

"We’ll be able to go to the wind tunnel with our Chicago car this week and double-check where we are. It’s going to begin to roll. I’m happy about that. I can’t express my thanks about him being able to come over to this team. I think we can put a good thing together. We’re excited to have him. I think he’s excited to be here and Miller Lite wants us to do better. This was a good sign of that."

The NASCAR circuit travels to Chicagoland Speedway next weekend. Newman will compete in Saturday's Busch Series race – USG Durock 300 -- in his No. 12 Kodak Dodge Charger. The USG Sheetrock 400 NEXTEL Cup race is scheduled for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. CDT. It is the last telecast for TNT this season. MRN Radio will broadcast the event.

No comments: