LOUDON, N.H. — Ryan Newman stole a race Tony Stewart thought was his.
Newman, who barely made the 10-man Chase for the championship, got off to a fast start in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff Sunday by outdueling points leader Stewart down the stretch to win the Sylvania 300.
Stewart, who started from the pole, dominated through much of the race, leading 173 of the 300 laps at New Hampshire International Speedway. But Newman won a late battle with Stewart, passing him on lap 299 and holding the top spot by two car-lengths.
“Tony wasn’t happy with the balance of his car at the end,” said Newman, who led 66 laps. “His car was going away at the right time for me. It was going away faster than mine. But that’s the best racing I’ve seen at this track.”
Following the final pit stops by the leaders, Newman found himself just ahead of Stewart when the green flag waved with 16 lap to go after the last of 10 caution flags.
The streaking Stewart, on the way to his 13th consecutive finish of eighth or better, was relentless in trying to retake the lead, pulling up to the rear quarterpanel of Newman’s Penske Racing South Dodge time after time before finally slipping below him on the backstretch on lap 292.
But Newman, whose last win came a year ago in Dover, wouldn’t give up. He stayed with Stewart, got beneath the Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet on lap 299 and pulled ahead, staying out front to win by 0.292-seconds.
Chase contenders Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finished third and fourth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is out of the Chase but running his first race with Tony Eury Jr. back as his crew chief.
“Tony and I are a good combination,” said fan favorite Earnhardt, who has struggled through a disappointing season. “And we’re going to try to work toward next year. These next nine races are real important and we’re going to try to build on that.”
Newman was ecstatic after his first win in 35 races, finally breaking through for a win after season-long struggles — and doing it in the biggest race so far this season.
“That was a long time without a Cup win,” said Newman, who drove part-time in the Busch Series this season and got a big boost by winning three straight races at one point.
“It felt so good to be able to win in the Busch Series and win three races over there. That builds confidence in a driver.”
As for his battle with Stewart, Newman said: “Getting back by him was a lot easier than him getting by me because I was giving him everything I could. I just did exactly the same thing to him that he did to me.”
Stewart was philosophic about losing the race in such a great battle.
“I got used up a little bit on running on the high side, but that was a good race,” he said. “But that was some kind of short track racing right there. That’s the way the Chase should start just like that.
“Ryan did an awesome job. We just couldn’t hold him off at the end.”
It was Newman’s 12th career win and, more important, moved him from 10th in the standings — a position he barely grabbed with a 12th place finish last week in Richmond — to a tie for third with teammate Rusty Wallace, both of them trailing Stewart by 40 points and Greg Biffle by 20.
Wallace finished sixth, with Chase contenders Mark Martin seventh, Jimmie Johnson eighth, Jeremy Mayfield 16th, Carl Edwards 19th and defending champion Kurt Busch, involved in a crash on the second lap of the race, 35th.
Busch, who started his charge toward his title with a victory here last year in the opener of the inaugural Chase, was sent spinning into the wall in a collision with Scott Riggs on the second lap.
The furious champion drove his battered, smoking car to the garage, then strode to Riggs’ pits, where he climbed up the pit box and spoke for a few moments to Riggs’ crew chief, Rodney Childers.
Asked what Busch said to him, Childers said: “They’ve had some past experiences with stuff. He took us out at Indy and we forgave them. This was an accident and he’ll have to forgive us.”
Busch then stalked back to the garage, where his team worked furiously to get the car repaired. Busch, who began the day in fifth place, just 20 points behind Stewart, finally returned to the race on lap 68, 66 laps behind the leaders. With the help of attrition, Busch worked his way up from 43rd to 35th, a difference of 24 points.
Tempers flared in the crash-filled race and Kasey Kahne, Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon were all called into the NASCAR Hauler to be reprimanded following the race.
Kahne drove into Kyle Busch on purpose after Busch put him in the wall, and Gordon tried to back into Waltrip after they collided, sending Gordon into the wall. Gordon missed, but stood on the track waiting for Waltrip and threw his helmet at Waltrip’s car as he drove by.
“I think you’re going to see some pretty stiff penalties coming out of this, probably by Tuesday at the earliest,” said NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter.
Asked why Kurt Busch was not called to the hauler, Hunter said, “He told our officials what he was going to do and he conducted himself in a professional manner.”
Tony Schumacher won the Toyo Tires Nationals in Mohnton, Pa., for a third straight season Sunday to extend his lead in the NHRA standings to 100 points.
Schumacher inched closer to a second straight and third overall series championship by defeating his closest chaser, Larry Dixon, with a pass of 4.498 seconds at 323.74 mph to Dixon’s 4.575 at 322.11.
The other winners at the $1.5 million race, the 19th of 23 events on the $50 million NHRA POWERade Series, were Tony Pedregon (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Pedregon (6.349 at 191.02) ended an almost two-year winless streak with his win over John Force (8.339 at 125.82).
Anderson (6.721 at 205.19) defeated Jim Yates (6.771 at 204.57) to extend his lead in Pro Stock to 176 points over Kurt Johnson.
Sampey, who lives just outside New Orleans in Mathews, La., ran a 7.139 at 191.84 to defeat Ryan Schnitz (7.459 at 181.13) for her second win of the year and 37th of her career, the most by a woman in NHRA history.
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