Ryan Newman keeps his cool to be last man in for Cup playoffs

Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – For Ryan Newman, it was a day of racing on the edge. Tied with Daniel Suarez for the 16th and final position in NASCAR’s Cup Series playoffs, the Roush Fenway Racing driver knew Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was going to be a day where he couldn’t relax for a second.

Several times, when his Ford was being pushed down the straightaway by another car, Newman told NBC Sports that he was a correction or two from putting his No. 6 Ford into the fence.

“It was close calls all the time,” Newman said.

He started 22nd and had to race his way into contention if he was going to have any hope of making the field of 16 that begins the playoffs next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Newman would climb as high as sixth, then drop to as low as 13th. He dodged a major crash that ended Jimmie Johnson’s playoff chances in Turn 2 on Lap 105 and was able to forge ahead.

With Suarez far behind in Newman’s rear-view mirror in 11th place, Newman was able to clinch the playoff position when he crossed the famed “Yard of Bricks” in sixth place.

“I was pretty tickled,” Greg Newman, Ryan’s father, told NBC Sports. “I spotted for him in Turn 3 and at the end of the race my remark was, ‘We finally put the cat back in the hat.’

“I’m pretty proud of that.”

Now that the “cat is back in the hat,” Newman can finally relax, at least for the rest of Sunday night.

“It’s a huge relief,” Ryan Newman told NBC Sports. “It took 26 races to get here. You go back and look at what we did at Daytona to stay on the lead lap and finish that race with a flat left-front tire and the nose knocked off and everything else. Every point to this point made something and it made something out of our season because making the playoffs is a big deal.”

The long, hard struggle of the 26-race regular season where drivers have to fight and gouge for every point available, Newman’s team has improved throughout the season.

Late in the race, however, came a driver that nobody had considered in the championship discussion entering the race. It was Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 Chevrolet.

Wallace briefly raced his way to second place with the laps winding down, before Joey Logano took that position.

“I was pretty confident Kevin Harvick had a really good car and Kevin Harvick had a little left in the bag,” Newman said when asked about Wallace.

Kevin Harvick won his second Brickyard 400 by starting on the pole and leading the most laps (118) in the race. He also won the 2003 Brickyard 400 when he started on the pole.

Harvick was able to keep his cool by dominating the race. Further back, however, drivers like Newman were experiencing the heat of the moment.

“I don’t know if I kept my cool all day, but I kept it out of the fence when I very easily could have plowed the fence down,” Newman said. “In dirty air, I was as tight as anybody out there.

“It was a struggle a lot of times. At the end of the first stage, I had a lot of confidence. At the end of the second stage, I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence. We just stuck our nose to the grindstone.”

Newman was able to keep his nose clean; Suarez did not.

He brushed the wall on Lap 11 to bring out the first yellow flag of the race and his Ford sustained right-side damage.

His crew made repairs and Suarez gave it an effort, but 11th place was probably the most he could have gotten out of his damaged car.

“The 41 (Suarez) kind of got himself in a pickle there, and we were able to hold him off,” Newman said. “That was part of the race. The other part of the race was that we didn’t have a fast-enough race car to go up there and lead, and we got to be able to do that for these next three races.

“Guys were running out of talent. Guys have to control their race car. Just like usual here, you see stuff happen on pit road that you don’t see elsewhere because it’s pretty unique.

“What happens, happens,” Newman said. “When you put yourself in a bad position, sometimes bad things happen.”

“Oh, it’s huge, and my car was probably one of the worst in traffic for getting tight,” Newman said. “I was really struggling with that. I had to almost give up to let the guy in front of me get away so that I could actually run fast and try to keep the guy behind me. It’s a horrible way to try to race and be defensive, but it’s kind of what I had to do.”

Now that Newman and Roush Fenway Racing have made the playoff field, they want to prove they belong there.

Sunday’s race was simply a first step toward a greater goal.

“We’re continuing to go, today was another stepping stone,” Newman said to a group of reporters on pit road after the race. “No matter what everybody else does, we have three races to prove today is no spoof. A lot of guys ran out of talent.

“I saw a lot of guys losing control of their car all by themselves. We just have to take these next three races to the best of our abilities and move on.”

Newman believes his team has to improve its speed. More importantly, it has to get some checkered flags over the final 10 races.

“We have to win,” he said. “We really have to win. We don’t have any points. Some of these guys have 20 or 30 points on us and we have none. Winning, that’s the whole goal.

“We have to do everything we can, do everything possible, to keep progressing our team. We might get knocked out. We might prove come Homestead that we could have won it if we were in it.

“I just want to stay focused and do our thing.”

At the front of the field, greatness was on display in the No. 4 Ford driven by Harvick. He set a standard Newman wants to achieve.

“Making the playoffs for Roush Fenway Racing is good, but good is not good enough, we have to be great,” Newman said. “Harvick proved today what great is. He won the pole, led the most laps and won the race.

“I’ve been there. I want to get back to there.”

Kyle Busch dominates to Truck win at Las Vegas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kyle Busch extended his NASCAR Truck Series victory record to 57 in his hometown Friday night, leading 108 of 134 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion swept both stages and finished 5.958 seconds ahead of Johnny Sauter. Busch has won seven straight races in the series, including all five he entered last season.

Austin Hill was third, followed by defending series champion Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes. Grrant Enfinger, who opened the season with an overtime victory at Daytona, did not finish after an accident with 43 laps to go.

Christian Eckes was right behind Busch in the opening two stages, but he finished 23rd after an early final-stage wreck.

Results

Driver standings

Jimmie Johnson tops final Cup practice at Las Vegas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jimmie Johnson was the fastest driver in Friday’s second and final NASCAR Cup practice of the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The seven-time Cup champion hasn’t won a race since 2017, but showed plenty of speed, pacing the 38 cars that took to the 1.5-mile track, clocking a best speed of 179.432 mph.

Johnson and his Chevrolet were followed by five Fords.

Clint Bowyer, who was second-fastest in the first practice earlier in the day, was once again second-fast in the final session at 179.271 mph.

Aric Almirola, who was fastest in the first practice, was third-fastest in the final session at 179.170 mph.

Rounding out the top-5 were Kevin Harvick (179.015 mph) and Matt DiBenedetto (178.814 mph).

Sixth through 10th were Ross Chastain (178.660 mph), who will be filling in for the injured Ryan Newman in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400, followed by Kyle Larson (178.424), Ryan Blaney (178.359), John Hunter Nemechek (178.259) and Alex Bowman (178.089).

Final Cup practice results

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Next goals for Daytona winner Denny Hamlin: double-digit wins, Cup crown

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There was a time when Denny Hamlin’s best memories of the Daytona 500 were to just go home relatively unscathed.

Consider this: In Hamlin’s first six appearances in the Great American Race, his highest finish was 17th.

But after a breakthrough 4th-place finish in 2012, he has become the best overall performer in the 500 among active drivers.

“I don’t know what it is, but I think I started studying more about superspeedway racing around that time because I had been so unsuccessful for a very long time,” Hamlin said Friday during a media session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“We went a long time and I’ve won a lot of the Clashes and Duel races, but not many like Talladega – I think I have one win there – but it just seems like it’s that seven or eight years ago that the car came around and whatever techniques I use or I’ve adapted to this car have seemed to work.”

In the last seven editions of the 500, Hamlin has finished 2nd (2014), 4th (2015), 1st (2016), 17th (2017), 3rd (2018), 1st (2019) and 1st again this past Monday.

Do the math and that’s three wins – making him only the sixth driver in NASCAR history to win the 500 three or more times – and seven overall top-5 finishes in the last nine season openers.

Hamlin knew that getting his second 500 win in a row – both outcomes being the closest finishes in the race’s 62-year history – and third in the last five years was basically going to come down to a battle between him, Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney.

With emphasis on Newman, that is, before he was involved in that horrific last lap crash on the front stretch heading toward the checkered flag.

“I pulled the block on (Newman) coming to the white (flag) and I stayed in front and I knew he was going to back up to (Blaney),” Hamlin said. “I was trying to back up myself, but once (Newman) was attached (to Blaney), I knew they were going to come with a run I could not stop.

“I just held my line because if I started going sideways, the next thing you know (Newman) starts moving sideways and (Blaney) is already hooked to him, so he’s probably going to push him sideways into me.

“I just wanted to hold a straight line to let them know hey, pass this way, and when I did I was able to back to (Blaney) and was able to unattach him from (Newman). When I slowed his momentum, that allowed me to really tuck in right behind him. I don’t know if he checked up to keep us attached but once we got attached, I knew we were going to have a run back on (Newman).

“I knew he was going to get there, I didn’t know what was going to happen when he did get there, but certainly it worked out in my favor. I thought I was going to get back around (Blaney) at the (finish) line if there was no crash, but I wasn’t sure I was going to get all the way back to (Newman). I knew those two were going to jostle and I was just hoping to be in the right place when it happened and I was.”

Not having any 500 wins of his own, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch is envious of Hamlin’s three triumphs.

“Denny has really gotten way better ever since this car,” Busch said of Hamlin and how he’s adapted to the Gen 6 car in recent years. “He was always an aggressive plate racer, one that would make moves that you’re kind of, ‘Man, if he would just stay in line, I think this would turn out better.’

“He still does that today, but he’s making it work for himself, that not staying in line is better for Denny. I think since this car came though, he’s been a real good plate racer.

“He’s been fantastic at the game, he’s understood it, he’s made moves that I sometimes wouldn’t make that have worked, he’s able to pass a guy to get in line. … He’s very knowledgeable and skillful In making his moves and passes.”

Going forward from Daytona, Hamlin said his next goal is double-digit wins this season. If so, he’d become the first driver to earn 10 or more wins in a season since Jimmie Johnson did so in 2007 when the seven-time champ won 10 races.

“I’d be satisfied with that and then beyond that would be nice,” Hamlin said. “I think that the championship is an easy goal that anyone just throws out – win a championship, but that comes down to one race.

“If you can win a significant amount of races, it shows a bigger picture of your full year. If you make it to the Final Four, that’s a bigger picture of your entire year (Hamlin has reached the final four just twice since the format was introduced in 2014 — third that year and fourth last season). I think the championship – a successful year is making the Final Four. Anything after that is just whatever it is.

“Certainly we set lofty goals. I think everyone sets huge and lofty goals, but certainly we’re going to push ourselves to better what we did last year and it starts with Daytona and we’re able to repeat there so then let’s get a win now before we get to Texas to keep ourselves on pace or better from last year.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Johnny Sauter on pole for tonight’s Truck race in Las Vegas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Johnny Sauter will start from the pole in tonight’s Strat 200 Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Sauter earned the eighth career pole of his Truck Series career – and first since 2018 – by topping the other 34 drivers that made qualifying attempts with a speed of 177.836 mph.

Sheldon Creed (177.643 mph) will start alongside Sauter on the front row for tonight’s race.

The rest of the top 10 qualifiers were Kyle Busch (177.282 mph), making his first Truck Series start of the season, followed by Christian Eckes (177.189 mph), Ty Majeski (177.189), Austin Hill (176.788 mph), Tyler Ankrum (176.275), Raphael Lessard (176.056), Grant Enfinger (176.010) and Brett Moffitt (175.890).

Tonight’s race starts shortly after 9 p.m. ET (FS1, Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Trucks qualifying results

Follow @JerryBonkowski