WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – The 90-lap race at Watkins Glen International on Sunday nearly turned into a 90-lap circus before the checkered flag waved. Drivers got into shoving matches, an extended red-flag period to clean up oil and debris in turn one had crew members wondering if they should take rags to the site to help move things along, and a fan ran down to the stopped cars for an autograph.
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 12 Alltel Dodge Avenger, had his own share of excitement during the 220.5-mile race. Newman, whose car sported a special Kodak paint scheme, finished 13th. Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet, won the race.
Earlier in the weekend, Newman fought off a tenacious Andy Lally in the closing laps of Saturday's Zippo 200 NASCAR Busch Series race at Watkins Glen to bring his No. 12 Dodge Charger home in ninth place. It was the second top-10 finish for Newman in five Busch Series races this season.
Sunday's field was set by owners' points after rain canceled Friday's qualifying session and Newman started 15th. Eleven laps into the event, the Dodge Avenger wheel-hopped entering turn 10 and sent the Indiana native spinning into the gravel pit. Fortunately, he kept the tires rolling and made it out on his own, carrying about 20 pounds of debris with him on the car's splitter. David Ragan was not as lucky and he spun into the same gravel pit shortly after Newman. The first of eight caution periods began on lap 12, providing Newman the opportunity to come into the pits to fix his car.
A brake duct was damaged in the spin, forcing Newman to pit before pit road was open and that resulted in a penalty. NASCAR officials ordered him to the rear of the longest line and that sent him to the 41st position for the race's restart on lap 14.
Although Newman's car was tight going through the 11-turn road course, he was still able to pick up a few spots before the next caution flew for debris on lap 23. Crew chief Mike Nelson brought Newman back onto pit road for adjustments to free up the car, giving him one round of wedge out of the left rear, one round of wedge in the right rear and two rounds up on the right-side track bar along with a full tank of fuel. This stop put the team back on its original pit strategy and moved Newman to 21st for the race's restart on lap 26.
The car was loose when he returned to the track, but he was able to make his way into the top 15 and hovered there until the third caution period began on lap 41.
Newman pitted for a third time to go back on the previous adjustments that had only hurt his car's balance. Nelson had the Alltel team put 1 1/2 rounds of wedge into the left rear, take 1 1/2 rounds of wedge out of the right rear and supply four fresh tires and fuel. Once again, Newman restarted near the rear of the field in 34th. Unfortunately, the changes didn't help his car once the field returned to green-flag conditions.
"The balance is no good," Newman told his crew on lap 49. "It's really loose off [turns] 10 and 11."
A few laps later, he was racing Clint Bowyer when both men suddenly found themselves in one of the winding track's gravel pits. Both, however, maintained their momentum and continued.
On Newman's fourth stop, Nelson gave him fuel only and went three rounds down on the right- side track bar. The quick stop allowed Newman to gain 15 spots and placed him 15th in the running order.
For 12 of the final 25 laps, the field ran under yellow-flag conditions as four caution periods occurred during that time frame. When a five-car accident occurred on lap 73, the clean-up was lengthy, even bringing out the red flag for 26 minutes 4 seconds as crews worked in turn one to clean up the oil that spilled onto the track. It was during this time that drivers Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya, who were involved in the incident, began yelling and shoving each other before NASCAR officials could come between them.
The lengthy cleanup created an antsy feeling among drivers and crewmembers, and left them wondering what they could do to accelerate the track clearing procedure. While the race was stopped, Matt Kenseth received a surprise when a fan ran through a grassy area to the track and shoved an object inside the car's window for Kenseth to autograph. Kenseth told the fan he was a little busy and eventually, the man gave up and left the car. Track security later took him away in handcuffs.
When the field finally received the green flag again, only 12 laps remained and Newman was in 16th. There was one more caution flag before the checkered flag waved, but when the race finally ended he had advanced to 13th. Due to engine troubles that eliminated Dale Earnhardt Jr. from the race, Newman moved into 13th in the drivers' standings, 96 points behind the Chase-eligible 12th position held by Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch.
Next weekend, Newman will drive the No. 12 Alltel Dodge Charger at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway for the 3M Performance 400. ESPN and MRN Radio will broadcast the event at 2 p.m. EDT Sunday.