A yeoman’s effort by Ryan Newman and his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team afforded Newman a seventh-place finish in the Food City 500 on Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, his second top-10 showing in the first four races of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
From the drop of the green flag, Newman struggled with handling woes that would challenge his ability to make forward progress in the Haas Automation Chevrolet. A tight-handling racecar throughout the first half of the race saw Newman struggle at both ends of the high-banked speedway and limited his ability to move to the front of the pack. Crew chief Matt Borland called for adjustments on every pit stop, making air pressure, wedge and track bar adjustments, eventually dialing the handling toward Newman’s liking.
Newman spent much of the final 100 laps of the event running inside the top-10. When the caution flag waved for the final time on lap 456, Borland and Newman agreed to come to pit road for one final adjustment. Running 12th and with only a handful of cars behind them on the lead lap, the pair agreed there was nothing to lose. Four tires, fuel and and a track bar adjustment gave Newman what he needed to advance to seventh with just eight laps remaining. He held the spot to the checkered flag.
“It was a good day for the Haas Automation team,” Borland said. “We decided to make some changes to the car last night, and Ryan did an awesome job of getting the most out of it. The pit crew did a great job today. I can’t say enough. The whole team did an awesome job. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep that rolling.”
The finish paid dividends in the championship point standings for Newman, who had dropped him to 31st after a pair of incidents at Phoenix International Raceway and an engine failure at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Newman’s 13th top-10 result in 23 career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol advanced him eight spots in points, to 23rd in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
“That’s a good finish for our Haas Automation Chevrolet,” Newman said. “We struggled a little bit today. We were tight, then we were loose. But in the end, Matt made some good calls to get the car handling better. The last 100 laps were pretty exciting. I’m just really proud of the guys and the way they shook off the disappointment of the last two weeks. We obviously have not had the start to the season we wanted, but they know what we’re capable of, and they’ve not given up. Hopefully we can turn this into another good race next week at Fontana.”
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 28th. It was Patrick’s 14th career Sprint Cup start and her second at the .533-mile oval.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for SHR, finished 31st after a cut left-rear tire sent him spinning into the turn one wall on lap nine of the 500-lap race. His crew repaired the No. 14 machine after a lengthy stay on pit road. After returning to the track in 41st, Stewart gained 10 positions by the time the checkered flag dropped.
Kasey Kahne won the Food City 500 to score his 15th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Bristol.
Kyle Busch finished 1.7 seconds behind Kahne in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Newman, Brian Vickers, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 66 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
With round four of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He gained eight spots to climb to 23rd, 79 points behind series leader and reigning Sprint Cup champion Keselowski. Stewart dropped six positions to 24th, 81 points out of first. Patrick picked up two spots to rise to 28th, 97 points behind Keselowski.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 12 spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 16th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Auto Club 400 Sunday, March 24 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.