Part of the big news that happened on a wild Sunday at Watkins Glen occurred quite a distance behind the frantic, oil-coated finish involving ultimate winner Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski and the wildly unfortunate Kyle Busch.
Rolling home an unlikely 11th was Ryan Newman, who maneuvered through a difficult day to almost push into the top 10 but still had a good-enough run to improve his Chase for the Sprint Cup chances considerably.
Newman now is 13th in points, and that position – as matters currently stand – earns him the second wild-card spot. He is positioned higher than the other single-race winners in the top 20 (Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Ambrose and Kyle Busch).
Sunday’s finish continued a recent hot streak for Newman, who had scored 11 straight double-digit race finishes before going on a positive run five races ago. Since the Daytona race, he has finishes of fifth, 10th, seventh, sixth and 11th.
With four races remaining to the Chase cutoff, Newman has placed himself in position to make the playoffs.
“I really think we had a car that was a little better than where we finished, but in the end it was a good day for us in the points, which was what we needed to make the Chase,” Newman said. “That’s our mission, and we’re going to have to fight it out these next four races.”
Newman had a similar battle on his hands Sunday. The opening laps of the race went well for him, but he ran into trouble later as his right-rear tire started going flat during a caution period. He dropped from fifth place to 33rd.
Newman raced his way back to 12th and dodged another bullet 30 laps later. When caution flew on lap 59, he headed toward his pit but ran out of fuel on the way. He was able to coast into his pit stall, returning to the track in 15th.
Newman survived the tough finish – cars were slipping and sliding over the oily track over the final lap – to take 11th.
Moving on to Michigan International Speedway this week, Newman sits in good position to remain in the Chase race. In 22 runs at MIS, he has won twice and finished in the top five five times.
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.