Feeling Like a Newman: Rocket Ryan Propels to Victory Lane at Phoenix

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IApril 11, 2010

Perhaps Ryan Newman's sponsor summed up the kind of frantic action toward the last laps of the Subway Fresh Fit 600K at Phoenix International Speedway, as he sprinted his No. 39 Chevy to his first trip to Victory Lane since the 2008 Daytona 500.

Two years ago, the South Bend, Ind., native had an uncertain future, struggling with Penske Racing and paling by comparison to the driver who reeled off poles and wins like no tomorrow during the 2002-04 campaigns.

The 2002 Rookie of the Year winner even received praise and accolades, placing him in a higher pedestal than that of Jimmie Johnson.

Saturday night's spectacular proved that Newman still knows how to drive a racecar, quietly staying in the hunt throughout the 378-lap event. While his car wasn't the most dominant, the No. 39 Chevy led the laps that were the most important: the final two.

Much like the dusk-to-night races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the lead pack and conditions on the track changed just about as quickly as position shuffling at Talladega Superspeedway, with the conditions going from slick to tight.

Teams mainly focused on tire pressure adjustments, trying to get a grip on the ever-changing characteristics of the track.

Saturday night's race took on different phases which are best described as the "Juan Pablo Montoya Era," "The Jimmie Johnson Period," "The Kyle Busch," and Seinfeld...yea, that one's a bit of an old joke and nod to race winner Ryan Newman.

Save for AJ Allmendinger leading the opening laps in his No. 43 Valvoline Ford Fusion, the Blue Ovals were virtually absent from the lead for the rest of the way.

It appeared to be yet another Jimmie Johnson victory in the early going, checking out to substantial leads in his No. 48 Lowe's Chevy.

Having won three of the last four races at this facility, the odds favored the points leader and four-time Cup champion for yet another ticket to the winner's circle.

Charging his way from 16th to first, the swagger, or golden horseshoe, as some may have it, was in full force for NASCAR's version of the Yankees.

That's when Friday night's Nationwide race winner Kyle Busch decided to put the spurs to his No. 18 Toyota, leaping from the top-five to the captain's chair, establishing himself as the dominant force for the final stretch of the race.

Johnson and Busch both led for 113 laps, tied for the most circuits up front in the "Duel in the Desert." His Toyota was virtually bulletproof and lightning fast, perhaps playing possum with Johnson before taking the lead on lap 262.

The finish was setting up to be a triple threat attack, with Busch leading Johnson and Gordon down the stretch, with his lead shrinking in moderate intervals.

Still, victory was in sight for the Joe Gibbs Racing talent, who was poised for a weekend sweep in Avondale, Ariz., before Scott Riggs cut a right front tire, slamming into the wall with three laps remaining.

With the green-white-checkered format in play, the leaders ducked to pit road for their final stops of the night, with drivers gambling for position.

Gordon's No. 24 DuPont team opted for two fresh tires, leapfrogging them from third to first, while Johnson and Busch changed four Goodyears. Also opting for two tires were Newman, Mark Martin, and Matt Kenseth.

All of these truly factored into the quick shuffling in the lead pack, which would ultimately cost Busch from his first Cup win of the season.

Unable to make up any ground, he would end up placing eighth, which was disappointing, considering how dominant and how close his team was to finally capitalizing on what was otherwise a good performance.

Meanwhile, Gordon, who's also enduring a winless streak, had two laps within sight of capturing a historic victory. Racing for most of the night around the top-10, the FireStorm Warriors had a legit shot to score a surprising victory...that is, until Newman entered the picture.

Shooting to the lead on the inside lane, Newman's No. 39 Tornados Chevy sprinted away from Gordon, or as they say in NASCAR parlance, "he drove it like he stole it."

A good restart for Newman was the difference, as he crossed the stripe by just about 0.2 seconds, beating Gordon, Johnson, Mark Martin, and Juan Pablo Montoya to the line. 

Making the victory sweeter for Newman's group, run by Stewart-Haas Racing, was crew chief Tony Gibson's first trip to the most hallowed grounds of any track.

Having been a crew member for the late Alan Kulwicki in the '92 Cup title season and notably as Jeff Gordon's car chief during the 2001 title campaign, the victory marks another accolade to the perennial head wrench's resume.

With the win, Newman jumps up to 16th in points, just 53 points from the top-12. Busch and Gordon also gained positions in the championship battles, climbing up to 12th and fifth, respectively.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup gang heads to Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday for the 13th running of the Samsung 500 (Live, 1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports).

David Reutimann looks to duplicate his qualifying success from a year ago, starting on the pole, while Jeff Gordon looks to defend his victory at the Lone Star State's superspeedway.

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