The Bank of America 500 weekend started out great for Ryan Newman with his fifth Bud Pole Award this season and his seventh pole at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
In all three weekend practice sessions, Newman was in the top 10. But everything soured just three laps from the checkered flag Saturday night when he cut a tire while leading, dropping from first to a 28th-place finish.
"I couldn't tell if it felt a little spongy before, but obviously, the car was plenty fast," Newman said. "I felt it pop and it spun around and hit the wall. We tried to complete some more laps after that, but that was it."
When the green flag waved at the beginning of the scheduled 334-lap race, Newman started strong, leading the first nine laps.
Newman reported the car was a little loose at first, but then it went to the tight side. However, when Newman came in for his first pit stop during the second of 15 caution flags, crew chief Michael Nelson called for right-side tires and fuel only, no adjustments. Newman restarted in fourth, but immediately lost three spots when the car started out loose.
Newman was able to regain two spots and was one of the fastest cars on the track, even though he radioed in to his crew that he had a slight tire vibration. Newman was also having trouble running the high side as the car was too tight, but it was only slightly tight when he ran on the bottom.
As the run progressed, the Alltel Dodge got even tighter and Newman was having to go easy on the car's right-front tire – where the vibration was occurring. He continued to lose positions until he could get back into the pits.
The third yellow flag waved on lap 67 when Reed Sorenson hit the third-turn wall. Newman pitted and received four tires, fuel and three rounds up on the right-side track bar. The extended stop dropped Newman from sixth to 11th, as many teams took only two tires.
After the restart, Newman fell to 12th, but immediately moved back up into the top 10 before the fourth caution came out on lap 77.
Newman hovered just inside the top 10 while he continued to fight a tight condition in his race car. Before Newman had to make a green-flag stop, the yellow flag waved again for debris on lap 118. Nelson brought Newman down pit road for four tires, fuel, one round of wedge out of the left rear and had the Alltel crew put a rubber in the right rear. Newman dropped to 15th on the restart with an 18.73-second stop, but he was able to advance through the field as soon as the green flag was shown again.
On the next pit stop on lap 139, Newman received right-side tires, fuel and three rounds down on the right-side track bar. The quick stop returned Newman to the top 10 for the restart and again, Newman lingered inside the top 10, but this time, his car was too free.
A fifth stop on lap 160 gave Newman four fresh tires, fuel and two more rounds down on the right-side track bar. Newman restarted 10th and he was pretty happy with the car, even though it was a little loose on entry at times. However, in dirty air, Newman didn't have much room to move and he was still 10th when the eighth caution began on lap 176.
Again, Newman only got right-side tires, fuel and a half round of wedge in the left rear. Newman restarted ninth and advanced to seventh when the yellow occurred again. This time, when Newman pitted, Nelson gave him only fuel and that got him back onto the track in third.
As soon as the green flag waved, Newman told his crew the car was free, but then suddenly it became extremely loose after hitting something in the center of turn three. Luckily for Newman, the caution came out again on lap 208 and Newman relayed to his crew that the car was way too hot. His spotter informed them that a windshield tear-off was covering the Alltel Dodge's grill. Newman came in for four tires, fuel, another half round of wedge in the left rear and a thorough cleaning of the grill to cool the car. Again, many teams took only two tires and Newman had to restart 13th.
Newman moved back up to 10th when the caution came out for the 11th time and since Newman had no complaints about the car and fairly new tires, Nelson brought him down pit road for fuel only. That got him back onto the track in third position.
Newman took over second on lap 245 and was chasing down Clint Bowyer for the lead, but the car fell back onto the tight side and Bowyer started to pull away from Newman. Jeff Gordon then passed Newman, dropping him to third.
When Scott Riggs' Dodge hit the wall in turn two on lap 280, all of the lead-lap cars came down pit road for their final stop. Newman received four tires, fuel and one-and-a-half rounds up on the right-side track bar. The 13.86-second kept Newman in the third spot when the green flag waved on lap 284.
The Alltel Dodge was loose after the adjustments and Newman fell back to fourth, but then the car tightened up just a bit and Newman told his crew that the car felt neutral and he was quickly gaining on the three cars in front of him.
Around lap 320, Newman began informing his crew that another car was dropping oil on the track. Although the Alltel crew members kept telling the NASCAR officials about the danger on the track, the yellow flag did not wave until Johnny Sauter's car spun, bringing out the 14th caution flag. That resulted in NASCAR red flagging the race for 12 minutes 6 seconds on lap 324 while they cleaned up all of the oil around the 1.5-mile track.
Newman was in fourth when the race restarted on lap 330. Before making one circuit around LMS, Newman had rocketed into first and was pulling away from the rest of the field. It looked as if he would get his first win in more than two years with only five laps remaining.
"I went around the outside of the No. 07 and the door opened up when the No. 24 and the No. 5 checked up on the bottom," Newman said. "It was a great coincidence for me, but unfortunately the left rear tire blew out after that."
Unfortunately, luck was once again not on Newman's side. Just two laps later, Newman's Alltel Dodge cut its left-front tire going into turn two and Newman hit the wall, leaving the Alltel Dodge battered and unable to complete the remaining laps of the race that ended under green-white-checker conditions.
When the checkered flag waved, Newman was relegated to a 28th-place finish.
Next weekend, Newman will drive the No. 12 Alltel Dodge Avenger in the Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway. ABC and MRN Radio will broadcast the race live beginning at 1 p.m. EDT.