Newman team's wonky strategy pays off
June 09, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Using car's strengths, No. 39 pulls off a top-five finish
LONG POND, Pa. -- One week after his boss buoyed the entire organization with a breakthrough victory, Ryan Newman used a bit of wily pit strategy to keep the roll going for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Sunday at Pocono Raceway, once-beleaguered SHR placed two cars in the top five for the first time this season, with Tony Stewart backing up his surprising Dover win with a fourth-place run while teammate Newman strategized his way to fifth. The No. 39 team used a pit strategy that put them off cycle from the rest of the field, and gave them hopes of stealing a victory until Jimmie Johnson asserted his dominance over a series of late restarts.
But for a while, though, Newman had everyone guessing. He stayed out while the field pitted following a caution for debris issued on Lap 66, and although Johnson quickly regained the top spot, Newman remained in second until he finally pitted under green on Lap 121. That mired him back in 19th -- until everyone else pitted under a caution for fluid on Lap 125, which cycled Newman back to the point.
Suddenly, he was a serious player for the victory with only 35 circuits remaining on the 2.5-mile track. On an afternoon where he led 128 laps, Johnson was at times untouchable, and often had little trouble muscling past Newman on restarts. But every pit cycle put the No. 39 car out front again, and it became a question of timing, and which driver would be there at the end.
“That pit strategy has won quite a few races here,” Newman said. “We just didn’t get good restarts there at the end. Jimmie was good all day. Just proud of the guys. They did a good job. We didn’t get the best restarts there at the end. Every time we had a restart, we’d lose a couple of spots and gain one back, and we ended up fifth.”
Crew chief Matt Borland said he devised the pit strategy on the fly, when he noticed how much his No. 39 car struggled back in traffic compared to others. “We kind of stalled out there when we couldn’t get through in traffic, and we looked at what was going on and decided we’d take a shot at it,” he said.
“If we were making a lot of ground passing cars, then we might not have tried to pull that. The car was good in clean air. We just couldn’t make the ground up in dirty air. (Race engineer) Daniel (Knost) did a great job calculating fuel mileage, and Ryan did a great job saving gas, and it all put us in a position to have a shot at it.”
There were some nervous moments early, when the green-flag runs stretched on and Newman didn’t get the cautions he needed to stay a step ahead of everyone else. “Typically here you get engines blowing up and things like that going on, transmissions breaking. But you start to worry about it when they’re not happening,” Borland said.
Newman wasn’t concerned. “When you get that many green-flag runs, there’s bound to be yellows,” he said. “So it’s just a matter of how many, and if they come at the right time.”
For Newman, they did, but his car just wasn’t strong enough to hang with Johnson’s on restarts. Even so, the final result was only Newman’s second top-five finish of the season, and his first since a fifth-place result in the Daytona 500. It coincided with Stewart’s first consecutive top-fives of the year, continuing a rebound for a SHR organization that struggled mightily in the opening months of this season.
“Definitely progress, for sure,” Stewart said. “It's one thing if one car runs good, but to have two or all three of us running good shows that we are gaining momentum. It's not just one team, the whole organization is gaining momentum.”
SHR’s other driver, Danica Patrick, finished 29th and on the lead lap in her first career race at Pocono in any series. For Newman, his result was a relief after crashing last weekend at Dover in an on-track scrape that resulted in heated off-track words between himself and David Gilliland.
“As good as (a) rebound as you almost possibly could have for us, given how bad it was last week,” Newman said. “… We’ll keep digging.”