Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stewart-Haas Racing Review—Newman Outshines Boss at California

Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch in the Lead at Fontana
Credit: Victor Decolongon/Getty Images for NASCAR

Tony Stewart may be the Stewart-Haas Racing boss but Ryan Newman was the team star at the March 27 Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup race at Fontana. The Stewart-Haas Racing teammates were tied for third in NASCAR points heading into California where Newman finished 5th and moved to second in the standings. Stewart finished 13th, after faltering on a late-race restart, and fell to sixth in points.

Newman’s finish was aided by a couple of key decisions made by Crew Chief Tony Gibson that worked out well for the U.S. Army team. At lap 76, Gibson opted for two tires instead of four. The result vaulted Newman to second place in track position. "That was a key decision that really paid off," noted Newman. "We pretty much stayed up there the rest of the race."

Another good move was the decision not to pit for fresh tires on lap 187 of the 200-lap race. This was a joint decision between Gibson and Newman. "At that time we were running in sixth place and felt we could hold off the cars behind us that took fresh tires," explained Newman. "I guess we did one better by finishing fifth."

Newman has turned in steady performances in the last four races: top-5 finishes (Phoenix, Las Vegas, Fontana) and a top-10 at Bristol. The No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet team suffered their usual bad luck at restrictor-plate tracks and left the season-opening Daytona 500 with a 22nd place finish before the series of good runs.

“I keep saying it,” Newman said, “but I’m really just so proud of everything that Stewart-Haas Racing has accomplished in these first five races.”

Tony Stewart ran up front during most of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 but the final nine laps around the two-mile track saw the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet fade. After the final restart on lap 192 of the race, Stewart restarted third behind leaders Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. By the time the checkered flag waved, Stewart had dropped to 13th place.

“We’re not really sure what happened,” Crew Chief Darian Grubb said. “Obviously, we’re pleased with the way the car ran for the majority of the race, but it’s pretty disappointing that we ended up where we did. For whatever reason, we couldn’t get going in the laps after the final restart and it cost us a ton of positions.”

Dropping positions during the final laps is nothing new to Stewart this season. He restarted the Daytona 500 in second with only two laps to go - finished 13th and a late-race caution at Phoenix let the field catch the race leading Stewart-Haas driver - finished 7th. 

The next race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers is the April 3 Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville (VA) Speedway where Newman finished fourth in the 2010 spring race and Stewart finished in the 26th spot.

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