Ryan Newman pulled off a dominating run on Sunday in Pocono. He took this race from the pole position, led the most laps, and brought his #12 Dodge in for the win. This is his fourth win of the season, and surpasses Kurt Busch as the series win leader. Kurt Busch by contrast has 3 wins so far this season. This is also the fourth time Busch has finished the Brides Maid. Newman not only holds the win list with 4 victories, but his four wins are the sum total of wins for Dodge this season. Newman dominated early in the race, then faded back a bit after the first round of pit stops when he had to pit a little earlier than the rest of field. This eventually played into his effort to win, as he regained the lead late enough in the race, and held on.
It was everything Kurt Busch could do to catch up to the leader following the final set of pit stops. He was among the drivers to make a pit stop during that last yellow, and take on fuel & tires. That certainly helped him as he started working his was to the front during the closing laps, advancing past top ten drivers with each passing lap. He was able to catch Newman, but not able to pass him. He made a few challenges in the final few laps, but just didn’t have enough for him. He did manage to get Newman’s car to wiggle a little with a couple to go, but all that did was strengthen Newman’s resolve as he continued to hold Busch off.
Newman said “I had to use defensive measures to keep the air of his nose.” But hold him off he did, and logged in his 4th win of the season. Dale Earnhardt Jr had a strong run today too, and wound finishing in third place, with team mate Michael Waltrip right behind him in fourth place. Terry Labonte rounds out the top five finishers for Sundays race.
We mentioned on Saturday that this would come down to a fuel mileage race. It appears we weren’t wrong on that part, though the late race caution flags seemed to have removed that factor. But removing the fuel mileage factor with only a few to go really didn’t change much, as they pit strategy leading up to this had already played itself out.
Local driver Ricky Rudd made his 700th career start this week. However, all the hoopla involving this start met for an early end when he ran into problems with his engine. In the end he only finished 121 of the 200 lap race. Despite the troubles it was a major mile stone in his career.
And speaking of engines, we had a few of them spew this week. Both the Joe Gibb’s cars succumbed to engine failures, first out was defending series champion Tony Stewart. Bobby Labonte lasted less than 30 laps longer before his engine started to spew oil & smoke, eventually sending him spinning into the wall. Ricky Craven also suffered engine problems and finished the day early.
We also saw quite a few cars wreck, including Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears, Jeremy Mayfield, and Mark Martin. Derrike Cope completed only 66 laps, and Morgan Shepherd claimed to have handling problems after completing only 44 laps. As for Shepherd, if this is starting to look like a planned program to you, then you’re not alone!
As for the series points, Matt Kenseth is still holding the lead, and has a very comfortable margin to boot. He’s managed to spread the gap to 232 points, and could literally sit out one race and still lead the series. This is a great margin to have, as it’s always possible that something could happen to him during one of these races and wind up with a DNF. It’s important to both him and car owner Jack Roush to maintain the lead in their bid for the championship. Consistency has been the key here, as he’s only won once race so far this season. He refuses to let complacency rule the day though, as he’s said numerous times that taking a conservative role usually leads to trouble.
That being said, we’re sure he’s backed away from certain situations in order to ensure he finishes the race with a fairly good position. He’s not dodging the bullet so to speak, but he’s not pushing it for everything it’s worth either. Winning the championship is far more important than winning a race, or trying to win too hard and winding up with a DNF instead.
As for the championship picture, it took a slight shake-up this week, as Jeff Gordon’s DNF didn’t help him in his bid for the championship. Gordon was second in the points leading into this event, and he’s a very potent driver to running that high on the championship leader board. But he fell to third this week, as Dale Earnhardt Jr moved up into second place. Jimmie Johnson and Bobby Labonte round out the top five in the standings.
Next week it’s on to the one of the most prestigious events of the season, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This is a big event, with a big race purse. You’re going to see a lot of drivers come out of the woodwork for this one, as they attempt to make the show. Those that can even make a start here, will walk away with a comfortable purse even if they finish last.