With first top five of season, Newman nearly matching 2014 performance that led to final four

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Ryan Newman had a decent car at Kentucky Speedway, but not one that would have placed him in the top five on its own.

Newman made sure to thank the person who came up with the strategy that saved him enough fuel to place him third at night’s end in the Quaker State 400, his first top five in 28 races.

“A good well-played race by (crew chief) Luke (Lambert) and all of us to get the finish that we did,” Newman said Saturday night. “We did have a good car. We just never seemed to be able to get good track position and played the fuel game there at the end, did what I thought I had to do, and with no fuel gauge or any kind of telemetry was able to make it to the end.”

After starting the night at Kentucky Speedway in 14th, the Richard Childress Racing car had an average running spot just outside the top 10 (11.80). But staying out during the final 68 caution-free laps, as leaders Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick pitted, proved a worthwhile calculation on Lambert’s part. Newman saved enough to score his first top five since Chicagoland Speedway last year, the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“Was hoping that we were going to be the first guy that could pull that one off, not the third guy,” said Newman, whose previous best result this year was seventh at Kansas Speedway.

“It’s four places better than our best finish all year,” said Newman. “Our first top five … that’s a big deal. Proud of that effort. Leading into this stretch of races, especially where we are in the Chase, to have good points tonight, even though it wasn’t a win. It’s a small victory in itself.”

It might be small, but it could be a big sign of what the team is capable of. Newman didn’t earn his first top five of the 2014 season until the Cup series came to Kentucky in its 17th race. The team went on to qualify for the Chase and then the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where it finished second in the race and the championship to Kevin Harvick.

Also like 2014, Newman entered Kentucky this year with five top 10s.

But after that 2014 Kentucky race, Newman was eighth in the points and earned four more top fives before the end of the season.

Newman’s result Saturday night has him at 12th in the point standings, the second-highest driver without a win and not qualified for the Chase. The highest is Chase Elliott, who is eighth in the standings.

“We started the season off decent but not where we wanted to be or where we thought we should’ve been,” Newman said. “We’ve still got some more work to do. We’re not leading a bunch of laps or leading the most laps in a given race and talking about how we didn’t win. We’re talking about how we can finish in the top five. We’ve got some work to do, don’t get me wrong, but I’m proud of the effort that went into tonight.”

Now Newman’s team heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway (July 17) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 24). Newman has three wins at Loudon, but none since 2011. Since then he has one top five and four top tens. Indianapolis was the site of his last win in 2013. He finished 11th there the last two years.