“The way the strategy and everything worked out, coming in for two tires and Clint kind of clearing out turn one for us, we were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” Newman understated.
A few minutes earlier, he had scored his first win – in quite unlikely fashion – in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
On the first of two green-white-checkered restarts, Bowyer charged forward and went low into turn one to try to pass Johnson and Gordon for the lead. The three-abreast approach seldom works in the turns at Martinsville, and Bowyer’s try failed. He and Johnson spun.
Newman slipped low to move through the mayhem and took the lead. He held it on the final green-white-checkered to win the race, outrunning AJ Allmendinger.
“We have been in that position here and been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it's nice to be able to at least balance it out and get Outback (his sponsor) in victory lane,” Newman said.
On the late-race restart in which Bowyer tried to slip into the lead, Newman hit his car in the rear as they took the green flag. Bowyer mentioned that contact in his post-race comments.
“Well, if I was in Clint's position, I would have tried not crashing the guys and won the race,” Newman said. “I mean, I was trying to do the same thing to him as he did to the 24 (Gordon), and he actually – whether he was trying to block me or he was just trying to get his run on the 24, he pulled down, and my little bump, I think it was a pretty good shot, propelled him up next to the 24.
“Whether he hit turn one faster than he wanted to or not, he still has got three pedals on the car and a steering wheel. It's his job to control it. I don't know if he hit the curb or if he ran out of room or the 24 pinched him down. It doesn't matter.
“The good thing is, we came out on the inside on the right side, and it was just a matter of racing AJ clean on that next restart.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third – and immediately behind – Newman on the restart.
“I felt like I was racing Junior behind me because I didn't want the same thing to happen because I've seen it happen so many times here,” Newman said. “It was really important for me to not spin my tires and get a good start and race AJ and try to eliminate the 88 from the race for the win.”
Of the big first-turn wreck, Tony Gibson, Newman’s crew chief, said Newman “had a good run going and Bowyer was going quite a bit slower from what I saw. It was a straight hit, but, you know, I think everybody was still going pretty straight before they got to the corner. When they got down in there, I knew good and well that Bowyer wasn't going to lift. So I was just hoping that we could get stopped or get down low enough to miss it and that's kind of how it worked out.
“But it's nerve wracking, and it's like Newman said before the restart, ‘I'm going for it, and if I don't bring it back, I'm sorry, you guys did a good job.’ ”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.