AVONDALE, Ariz. – For Ryan Newman, the drought is over.
After a solid but winless first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman scored his first victory behind the wheel of the No. 39 Chevrolet at Phoenix International Raceway. His Saturday night win was also the first Cup victory for the No. 39 in NASCAR and for crew chief Tony Gibson.
"It's been a long time coming to Victory Lane," said Newman, whose last win was 77 races ago at the 2008 Daytona 500.
On Lap 372, Scott Riggs wrecked to bring out the caution with three laps remaining in the race. As tough as the track had been on tires, there was no question the leaders would pit. Jeff Gordon was the first driver to exit pit road, and he opted for the outside line -- which had been the preferred position all race long -- on the restart with Newman on the inside.
"I spun the tires on the restart and Ryan shot forward," Gordon said. "I was like, 'Oh man, I'm in trouble here.'"
And he was.
Newman easily pulled off Turn 2 with the lead headed for the white flag and maintained the point to the finish. Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya made it a five-car sweep for Chevrolet.
"Thank you, guys," Newman radioed. "That's freakin' awesome. I appreciate the hell out of that."
Given the adversity that the No. 39 team faced in the first six races -- with two DNFs to start the season and just one top five, at Martinsville Speedway -- it's remarkable Newman has been able to maintain his drive. Entering this weekend, Newman was 22nd in points and had not led a lap. But as a result, his 14th career Cup win vaulted him to 16th in the standings.
"It was tough," Newman said. "It was tough last year. I'm not going to kid you, when I came to a new organization and it's the same organization for Tony Stewart and he won all these races. Looking back at it, we were close, but we gave some of our races away and we know that. We knew what we needed to make our team better, and I feel that we've done that. We proved that tonight."
For Newman, who won 12 races in his first four full seasons on the Cup tour, the transition to a new team has been a humbling experience. So it wasn't surprising that Victory Lane turned into a love fest between Newman and his owner/teammate Tony Stewart.
"He's so proud of me," Newman said. "He told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him back, 'cause it's his name, I'm representing him and a lot of people behind us. Everybody at Stewart-Haas, I thanked them for their help.
"I'm so gracious to be here right now. It's the most emotional victory I think I've ever had in my entire career just because it's been so long and I'm glad to do it here in Phoenix. (I made) my first Cup start here; I won four poles, and now I finally get my first win."
You blew it
Can someone tell me why Joe Gibbs did not insist Denny Hamlin get out of the No. 11 car Saturday night?
Coach has made Super Bowl-winning decisions and obviously knows when it's time to pull the quarterback. So why allow Hamlin -- who had knee surgery just 10 days ago -- to go the distance at Phoenix in a battered car when the he's already two laps down? No, Casey Mears hasn't posted Hamlin-type numbers, but there's no doubt he could have salvaged a better finish than 30th.
Numbers game Jamie McMurray made several dramatic comebacks on Saturday night. After contact with Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick, McMurray dropped to 40th on Lap 24 and battled back to 12th before the seventh caution on Lap 256. But then he encountered damage following contact on pit road and dropped to 25th. In the last 116 laps, McMurray was able to maintain his position with an ailing car and finished 24th. Robby Gordon entered the weekend outside the top 35 in the owners standings. Gordon put up a valiant effort on the racetrack, but with a second-rate pit crew, the driver lost considerable track position in the pits. The late race caution paid off for Gordon, who was the first driver to take four tires and scampered to a 14th-place finish. The effort bumped Gordon back to 35th, and gave him a guaranteed starting position next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Carl Edwards didn't have the sexiest run of the night, but a solid seventh-place run catapulted the Roush Fenway driver six positions in the standings to eighth to join teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle in the Chase Zone. Kenseth was the top finishing Ford in sixth.
Jeff Gordon had a heated battle with Matt Kenseth, which ignited in the closing laps as the rivals were battling for seventh place on the track. When the four time champ reached his limit, he quipped over the radio:
He's being a prick, so that's it.