Ryan Newman overcame a late-race pit road speeding penalty to finish 10th in the Auto Club 400 on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The finish marked Newman’s third top-10 finish in the first five races of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Despite low grip throughout the first half of the 200-lap race, Newman stayed on the lead lap. Crew chief Matt Borland called for major changes on each pit stop, including air pressure, wedge and shock adjustments to correct the handling of the WIX Filters Chevrolet SS. At the midpoint of the event, Newman reported that the No. 39 was “the best it had been all day.”
As green-flag conditions dominated much of the second half of the event, Newman slowly worked his way toward the front. A late-race caution period gave the Borland-led crew one final opportunity to make adjustments to their WIX Filters machine, but Newman was deemed too fast exiting pit road, resulting in a penalty that forced him to the tail of the lead-lap cars for the restart. In 23rd position with just 10 laps remaining, Newman charged through the field, climbing to the 10th position when the checkered flag waved.
“The guys on this WIX Filters team did a great job today,” Newman said. “They kept making the adjustments we needed, and they had consistently fast pit stops. I put us in a bad spot at the end with the speeding penalty, but fortunately we were able to rally back from that to finish 10th. I can’t say enough about everyone on this No. 39 team.”
Newman’s fourth consecutive top-10 finish at the 2-mile oval advanced him three spots in points, to 20th, in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
“It was another great day for this No. 39 team,” Borland said. “The guys did an awesome job all weekend getting this WIX Filters Chevrolet ready. Our day started out a little rough, but we made the right adjustments and felt pretty good about everything in the end. Overall, it was a good weekend for the WIX Filters team.”
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for SHR, led twice for 18 laps and was in position for a top-five finish with 10 laps to go until a block by Joey Logano on the lap 190 restart forced Stewart low and impeded his momentum. Stewart lost valuable positions in the closing laps and finished a disappointing 22nd.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 26th. It was Patrick’s 15th career Sprint Cup start and her first at Fontana.
Kyle Busch won the Auto Club 400 to score his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at Fontana.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished behind Busch in the runner-up spot as the race ended under caution for a last-lap crash involving Logano and Denny Hamlin. Logano, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five, while Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne and Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 35 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 200-lap race.
With round five of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings in 20th, 78 points behind new series leader Earnhardt. Stewart picked up two positions to rise to 22nd, 91 points out of first. Patrick dropped one spot to fall to 29th, 112 points out of first.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished six spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 20th in the race.
The Sprint Cup Series takes a rare weekend off for Easter before returning to action April 7 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for the STP Gas Booster 500. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 p.m.