For Ryan Newman and the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team, Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 was a case of deja vu back from 2014.
That year, Newman grabbed his first top-5 finish of the season at Kentucky Speedway, finishing third en route to finishing as the runner-up in the Sprint Cup Series championship.
Two years later, Newman did it again, as he managed his fuel tank to finish third, his best Sprint Cup finish since Chicago last fall.
“We had a good enough car that we could back it off and manage,” Newman said of the fuel run. “We can’t say we had the best racecar – the No. 78 was pretty stout. We played the best strategy we possibly could, Luke [Lambert, crew chief] believed in me that I could make it and we barely did.”
As the laps ticked down, fifth-year crew chief Lambert was in shaky waters while Newman conserved all he could to the end.
“We were rather uncomfortable,” he said. “At the start of the run, it was such a deficit, we really didn’t think we should consider saving. He was able to start saving really early in the run and that’s the only way we could have done it.”Still searching for his first Sprint Cup victory as a crew chief, Lambert says the Kentucky result is “big in a lot of ways” for all of RCR.
“All the RCR cars ran strong all night and that’s encouraging,” he said. “It’s good for the No. 31 team. We feel like we’ve been improving our performance and not being able to get the results. This is a good little builder, big day for us in the points and something we can go to work on next week.”
To join the difficult fuel game in the final laps, the whole field found some tough ground in Turns 3 and 4, as Newman called it a “parking lot.”
“Man, it’s a parking lot in Turn 3,” Newman said. “Other that that, it’s fast in [Turns] 1 and 2. It seemed like it was the challenge all week to get your car to be good into 3 and off 4. We were just average in 1 and 2 but we were better than a lot of guys in 3 and 4.”
Surviving the turns, Newman turned his way into a more comfortable Chase situation, as he jumps to 13th on the grid – the second highest non-winner currently in the Chase.
“I saw a couple guys in front of us [in points] struggle,” he said. “All we do is stay focused on ourselves. We keep an eye on what’s in the mirror and what’s in the windshield but we can’t let it change our day.
“I’d say the guys who like the least amount of downforce are the guys who finished up front. Obviously, a little bit of fuel strategy played into that.”
A healthy step forward through a semi-sweet 2016 campaign, Newman is happy to end the first half of 2016 on a high note.
“We fought two years ago to get to our first top 5 in this race,” he said. “It’s kind of a miserable saying to get your first 5 in July but we’re proud of it.”
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