One of the first people to greet Ryan Newman in Victory Lane was Tony Stewart. "He’s so proud of me," Newman said after breaking a 77-race Sprint Cup winless streak. "He told me he loved me and I told him I loved him back because it’s his name, I’m representing him and a lot of people behind us."
Newman took the lead after a late caution at Phoenix International Raceway and held off Jeff Gordon in a two-lap shootout Saturday night to get his first victory since the 2008 Daytona 500, and first since joining Stewart’s new team last season.
Kyle Busch was cruising to what would have given him a weekend sweep when a caution flag came out with three laps remaining. When the lead-lap cars pitted, Busch took four tires and came out eighth – behind six cars that took only two tires and Jimmie Johnson, who also took four and was seventh out of the pits.
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Gordon beat everybody out of the pits, but spun his tires on the restart in a green-white-checkered finish. Newman then charged inside and took the lead, and held on for the win.
"All of a sudden he shot forward. I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m in trouble here,’ " Gordon said.
"It’s been a long time coming for me to get to Victory Lane," Newman said. "I’m gracious to be here. This is the most emotional victory I’ve ever had in my entire career just because it’s been so long."
Newman, driving the No. 39 Chevrolet owned by Stewart, had led only two laps before the final two. That lead came during the first caution only 21 laps into what became a 378-lap race – instead of the scheduled 375, already 63 more than last spring – on the oddly shaped mile track.
"I couldn’t believe it. I saw the white flag and I was like I don’t have that far to go," Newman said. "Every restart, I had been on the inside and I couldn’t get going. … I held my line and got a good shot off Turn 2. That’s all we needed."
It was Newman’s 14th career victory in 303 starts, but the first time a No. 39 car has been to Victory Lane (286 races). Johnson, who had won four of the previous five races at Phoenix, finished third and increased his series points lead – from 14 to 36 over Matt Kenseth. Greg Biffle had been second in points before finishing 22nd Saturday night, the first time this season he wasn’t in the top 10.
"I made the call for four (tires) and made the most of it," Johnson said. "Not a bad night at all. I’m excited to see us stretch out the points a little bit."
Denny Hamlin, racing only 10 days after surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee, drove the entire race and finished 30th, two laps off the pace. He had moved up to 13th before an extended pit stop to repair damage from being hit and to address an electrical problem.
Newman snapped Hendrick Motorsports’ string of six consecutive victories at Phoenix, and gave Chevrolet its 10th straight win at the track. Chevy drivers had the top five spots, with Mark Martin fourth and Juan Pablo Montoya fifth.
Matt Kenseth was sixth and Carl Edwards seventh in Fords, while Busch finished eighth in his No. 18 Toyota.
Busch had taken the lead from Johnson on a restart on lap 263, then stayed in front and was seemingly on way to his first Cup victory of the season. But the caution came out when Scott Riggs blew a right front tire – while running just ahead of Busch – and ran into the wall.
Busch won the Nationwide race Friday night at Phoenix in dramatic fashion when he benefited from a late caution.
In the Nationwide victory, Busch took four tires on the final stop and was 10th on the restart with eight laps left. It took him only three laps to dart through the field and take over the lead.
Busch had lost his lead on a disputed restart that led to a red flag and was penalized on the ensuing restart to drop to 19th place and 20 seconds behind. If not for that last caution, during which he collided with his teammate on pit road, he would have never been able to win that race.
"I thought Kyle stole one last night," Newman said. "So it’s even." The late caution cost Busch on Saturday night. Busch’s crew chief, Dave Rogers, said the decision had been made before the race to change all four tires if there was a late stop, a decision based largely on what happened in the Nationwide race. Busch left without commenting.
Before Busch took the lead on a restart, Johnson had led 66 consecutive laps and had built a 1 1/2-second lead over Montoya until David Ruetimann’s accident brought out the seventh of nine cautions.
On that restart, Busch went ahead while Johnson and Montoya were bumping each other behind him.
The race that featured 20 lead changes among 13 drivers was slowed by 59 caution laps. Newman won with an average speed of 99.372 mph by a margin of .130 seconds.
Busch and Johnson both led 113 laps, and Montoya led 104.
AJ Allmendinger, a first-time polesitter in the Richard Petty-owned No. 43 Ford, led the first 17 laps until the first caution, and never led again. He finished 15th.
Scott Speed, who essentially replaced Allmendinger on the Red Bull team, started second but had slipped to 31st by lap 77. He got back on the lead lap during a caution 122 laps later and wound up 21st.