Ryan Newman stood the heat and scorches up a win at Phoenix, ending both he and Richard Childress Racing’s winless streaks
A late-race caution by Joey Logano put the race in the hands of the crew chiefs. Veteran crew chief Luke Lambert made the call and kept driver Ryan Newman on the track to take the lead.
The decision paid off as Newman held off Kyle Larson and snapped his 127-race winless streak in Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona.
It was Newman’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win since July 28, 2013 at Indianapolis and his second at Phoenix.
In a television interview, Newman thanked Lambert on making the winning call.
“It was a gutsy call by Luke,” Newman said. “I called for two tires and he called for none. I’ve won more races without tires than I had with four. I’m proud of my guys, we had a good car all day, kept it out of trouble and collected it in the end.”
During the post-race press conference, Newman said he didn’t have a problem staying out on the final restart.
“It’s nice to have that lead,” Newman said. “If we would’ve stayed out and been third, the outcome may have not been the same. It was Luke’s first win as a crew chief in the Cup Series and making a gutsy call like that makes it that much more special.”
In a radio interview, Lambert said cold air factored into the decision of staying out.
“We weren’t really good taking off (on restarts) on cold air and cold tires,” Lambert said. “Our setup didn’t really like fresh tires and made a pretty simple call from my standpoint. I figured we roll the dice and get little track position but Ryan drove the wheels off to bring it home.”
Lambert said he was surprised more drivers pitted than staying out.
“I was hoping nobody in front of us stayed out and expected one or two guys in front of us to stay out,” Lambert said. “What made that call work is what the rest of the field does. We were in that right spot to make that decision and everyone else around us made the call that helped propelled us to the lead.”
The win also marked car owner Richard Childress’ first win since Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix Nov. 10, 2013 and the first win from the No. 31 team since Jeff Burton at Charlotte Oct. 11, 2008.
Childress said he knew Newman can still win races since joining Richard Childress Racing in 2014.
“I’m proud of our team and Ryan,” Childress said. “It was our day and so great to be back in winner’s circle and it won’t be the last.”
Newman’s win secured him a spot in the playoffs and sits 11th in the points standings.
Throughout the week, the headline in the garage was the fight between Logano and Kyle Busch at Las Vegas March 11.
Neither driver or crew members were fined for the incident as both debriefed about the incident days later.
After their discussion, a composed Busch kept his words short by repeating his answers during Friday’s interviews.
“Everything’s great,” Busch said. “Looking forward to getting back to my car and being here at Phoenix.”
Logano said he apologized to Busch and admitted the incident was his fault.
“I tried to explain that I made a mistake underneath him,” Logano said. “Kyle asked for data and was able to show him that it was pretty clear of what happened. Hope he sees that but time will tell.”
On the track, it was Logano who had the first laugh by starting in pole position and winning stage one over Larson.
Turn one became the center of action as rookie Corey LaJoie crashed on the 119th lap to bring out a caution. LaJoie finished 38th.
The caution was the turning point for Logano as a pit road speeding penalty relegated him to the rear of the field.
Logano never reached the top-10 for the remainder of the race.
From there, Busch would dominate the race and had a three second lead over Larson with less than 10 laps to go.
Busch’s lead evaporated on lap 308 as Logano’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford cut a right front tire and hit the turn one wall.
Logano said an overheated bead may have caused the cut right front tire.
“There’s not much you can do when a right front blows out,” Logano said. “We had a good car at the beginning of the race and then it fell off after the pit road speeding penalty. It was hard for us to get back in front. We were getting closer but our long run speeds was off. We have to figure out to get faster on long runs.”
The crash ended Logano’s day and finished 31st.
During the final caution, several drivers including Busch and Larson pitted for fresh tires but Newman, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Martin Truex, Jr. stayed out and were the top three on the final restart.
Larson beat Busch off pit road and restarted fourth.
Newman had a great restart as Stenhouse, Jr. lost ground and nearly turned Larson in turn one. Both drivers kept their cars in control but Newman pulled away from the field.
Larson passed Stenhouse, Jr. exiting turn two for second but was unable to catch Newman and earned his third straight second place finish.
The top two finishers share history at Phoenix Raceway as it was Newman who battled Larson for a Championship 4 berth Nov. 9, 2014.
Newman made his move on the bottom that put Larson into the turn four wall and earned the fourth and final spot for the championship.
Newman finished second behind champion Kevin Harvick a week later.
Larson said he didn’t anticipate Stenhouse, Jr. moving up entering the first two turns.
“I had a good restart and thought I was clear of Ricky,” Larson said. “My spotter (Derek Kneeland) said ‘clear’ for a quick second but maybe drove a little bit harder than I anticipated. I turned down and he was there. I got sideways and it killed our run off two.”
Larson told Fox Sports reporter Matt Yocum that he would’ve caught Newman had it not been for his mistake on the restart.
“I wish I wouldn’t got sideways in the middle of one and two,” Larson said. “I would’ve stayed close enough to Newman and probably got him coming to the white flag. This one stings because I felt like I was on the best spot lining up fourth on two tires.”
Larson’s sting was temporary as he leads the points standings by six points over Brad Keselowski.
“It’s really cool to be the points leader,” Larson said. “That was a goal of mine entering Sunday. Hope we can continue to have the speed on our race cars and close some of the races out.”
A fourth-place effort by Stenhouse, Jr. marked his first top-5 finish since Talladega Oct. 23, 2016.
Stenhouse, Jr. said crew chief Brian Pattie made a lot of adjustments on his No. 17 Fastenal Ford after crashing during Saturday’s final practice.
“We were really good on long runs and finally got track position at the end,” Stenhouse, Jr. said. “It was a fund solid day being able to pass cars instead of riding around. We missed the win by a little bit but definitely something to build on.”
Busch, who led a race-high 114 laps, remained in high spirits despite finishing third.
“Everything’s great,” Busch said. “We got third so we should be pumped about that. The way the car ran today was awesome at the end. Guys made some good calls and made good adjustments to make it feel better for me. Once the car got in front, thanks to my pit crew, the car liked clean air.”
Busch said he took his time to get through traffic but the last restart bit his chances of winning.
“We fought a little bit of traffic early in the race but we were mindful,” Busch said. “We bitted our time and got to the front when we did. From there, too many cars stayed out and we needed the outside like Larson had. Overall, we should be proud of our run Sunday and move on.”
Busch climbed from 19th to a three-way tie for 13th in the standings, four points ahead of 16th place Jimmie Johnson.
The final leg of the west coast swing takes place at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California March 26.
Johnson has won at Fontana a record six times and will enter the race as the defending winner.