In the closing laps of the Kentucky 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ryan Newman was sitting just outside the top-10 and poised to pick up his eighth top-10 finish of the 2013 season.
The Quicken Loans team made adjustments all race long, but a late-race caution that saw Newman restart deeper in the running order than he should have, combined with three-wide racing over the closing laps, resulted in a 14th-place finish.
“I really don’t know what happened on that last restart,” Newman said. “My spotter came over the radio and gave me the lineup. They had me scored behind several cars, one of which was the No. 78 car. I was ahead of him on the track, but they had me lining up behind him. I had (crew chief) Matt Borland argue that with the officials, but they saw things differently. So, needless to say, I wasn’t very happy with that.”
After starting seventh in the race that was postponed for a day due to rain Saturday night, an ill-handling racecar dropped Newman to 18th. During the race’s scheduled competition caution period, Newman made his first trip to pit road to take four tires and fuel, and adjustments to wedge and the left-front shock. Newman continued to struggle with his Quicken Loans Chevrolet as the laps clicked off but caught a break at lap 89 when the caution flag was displayed in the middle of the race leaders hitting pit road for scheduled green-flag pit stops. Newman, in the sixth position, was able to take advantage of the track position he lacked to that point.
While Newman’s position fluctuated over the remaining laps, he hovered just outside the top 10. With 20 laps remaining, Newman restarted in the 12th position and made a daring move to the high side of the racetrack that saw him advance several positions. But NASCAR officials instructed the driver of the No. 39 to line up in the 11th position for the final restart. Aggressive, three-wide racing over the closing laps saw Newman lose three positions before the checkered flag waved.
“We had a really good Quicken Loans Chevrolet at the end of the race,” Newman said. “Matt kept taking big swings every time we’d come to pit road. With the car being set up for racing at night, we were obviously off a bit, setup-wise. We weren’t alone in that, as everyone was dealt the same hand. But at the end, we had the car where I felt it was capable of bringing home at least a top-10 finish. It’s unfortunate, and I don’t understand the scoring issue, but we know we probably had a better finish coming than we were left with.”
Newman’s teammate Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS, finished 20th. The third member of SHR, Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 23rd.
Matt Kenseth won the Kentucky 400 to score his 28th career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his first at Kentucky.
Jamie McMurray finished .699 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 42 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.
With round 17 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He dropped one spot to 16th and has 457 points, 153 back of series leader Johnson and 22 points behind 10th-place Logano. Newman maintained his 18th-place standing and has 448 points, 162 out of first and 31 behind Logano. Patrick maintained her 27th-place standing and has 313 points, 297 behind Johnson and 166 away from 10th.
Nine races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kasey Kahne and Stewart are the only drivers between 11th and 20th in points with a victory, so they hold the first and second wild-card spots, respectively.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished six spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 17th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola on Saturday, July 6 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 6:30 p.m.