Ryan Newman did not have the best car in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, but he had two major factors that led him to winning his first race in 127 races: luck and strategy.
Kyle Busch led 114 laps in the final stage of the Camping World 500, and seemed to be on his way to Victory Lane when, with just six laps to go, a caution came out. Of all drivers, pole-sitter Joey Logano had a tire issue in Turn 1 to bring out the race-changing caution.
Most of the field pitted in anticipation of NASCAR Overtime but not Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. Kyle Larson got around Busch on pit road and benefited greatly from restarting fourth on the outside line, which had been beating the inside line all day long on restarts. Larson was able to pass both Stenhouse and Truex on the restart, almost spinning out off of Stenhouse’s front bumper in the process into Turn One, but couldn’t get around Newman before the checkered flag flew. Larson ran out of time partially because he lost so much from the contact with Stenhouse.
It was Newman’s 18th Cup Series victory, and his first at Richard Childress Racing. RCR’s had a winless streak almost as long as Newman’s heading into today at 112 races; this is also the first time a driver not named Kevin Harvick has won for RCR since Paul Menard’s win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011.
“I lost count, that’s how long it’s been,” Newman told Fox Sports in victory lane after being asked how it felt to win after such a long time. “…Just a gutsy call by [crew chief] Luke [Lambert]. I called for two tires and he called for none. I’ve won more races with no tires than I have with four.”
“Maybe I should have just run the middle lane [instead of coming down on Stenhouse]… but all-in-all, it was a good day for our Credit One Chevy,” Larson told Fox Sports. “Dang it. I wish I hadn’t gotten sideways in [turns] one and two, I would have stayed close enough to Newman I probably would have got him in [turns] three and four coming to get the white.”
Busch finished third, ending the weekend as he started it, telling Fox Sports that “everything is great” and that the team accomplished its goal of walking out of Phoenix with its first top 5 of the season. Stenhouse finished fourth and Brad Keselowski ended a strong day in fifth.
There were multiple tire failures under the hot desert sun of Phoenix, with at-track temperatures in the 90’s for most of the day. In addition to Logano, Matt Kenseth lost his right front on Lap 191 and slammed the wall hard out of Turn Four. Kenseth was cleared in the medical center, but the No. 20 Tide Toyota wasn’t and could not continue. On Lap 205, David Ragan cut a left rear tire and collected Gray Gaulding in turn one.
The first two stages of the race were rather uneventful. In the first stage, Logano led all but one of the 75 laps and held off a hard charging Larson in the final few laps. Corey Lajoie had some trouble on Lap 27 and scraped the outside wall on the backstretch tri-oval, leading to the only caution of the stage.
Logano led the first green flag lap of stage two but got passed by both Chase Elliott and Larson on the second, with Elliott coming out ahead in a three wide pass on the frontstretch. More trouble for Lajoie followed on Lap 117 when he hit the Turn One wall and brought out the third caution of the day. Logano sped on pit road during the ensuring round of pit stops, effectively taking the pole-sitter out of contention for the lead the rest of the day. Elliott won stage two, leading all the way after passing Logano and Larson. Elliott seemed to be destined to get his first Cup Series win, leading at the half-way point of the race, before getting shuffled out the lead during the Kenseth caution and never getting it back. He finished 12th.
With Newman’s win, it all but guarantees the veteran driver a berth in the playoffs, being the fourth different winner this season so far. Larson leads the point standings heading to his home race at Auto Club Speedway, after finishing second for the third consecutive weekend.