Newman strong-arms car to bank MBNA flag

June 02, 2003|By DICK BRINSTER

DOVER, Del. - Victory eased the pain Ryan Newman felt after muscling a 3,400-pound stock car around the track for half the afternoon.

Newman lost his power steering, but not his determination, and held off Jeff Gordon to win Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

"I'm definitely tired," Newman said. "My arms hurt, my back hurts, my neck hurts, and I'll be really sore tomorrow and probably Tuesday.

"But we had a fast race car, and I wasn't about to pull into the garage and say, 'That's it, guys.'"


The victory in the MBNA 400 gave Newman what he hopes will be the momentum to move into contention in the Winston Cup points race. But he was cautious in his assessment of the future.

"You can feel the momentum, but all it takes is one of those things," he said, alluding to the kind of problems that have plagued him this season.

After making a charge that carried him late last season to a sixth-place finish in the series and rookie of the year status, Newman has had a difficult start in 2003. No one had failed to finish more races, and that was costly.

This time, he overcame adversity.

"I lost the power steering with about 180 laps to go and that made it really hard," he said. "I couldn't even scrub my tires like the rest on the cautions because of it."

But the burly driver had enough strength to keep Gordon behind him when the four-time series champion tried to dive underneath in Turn 1 after the green flag waved for the final time with six laps to go.

"He raced me clean, and I appreciate that," Newman said. "He could have tapped me and got me loose. I was proud to race with him."

Crew chief Matt Borland was proud of his 25-year-old driver.

"The Kid did an awesome job," Borland said.

Gordon agreed.

"Ryan's very smooth and runs a good line," Gordon said. "He deserves to be in Victory Lane today."

But Gordon and third-place finisher Bobby Labonte thought Tony Stewart would have won had it not been for a one-lap penalty from NASCAR for pitting slightly out of the box.

"Tony was by far the class of the field," Gordon said.

But Newman didn't think that was necessarily so.

"It's just too hypothetical to say," he explained. "If we had power steering the whole race, I might have lapped the field."

Stewart, easily the fastest car in the field, recovered to finish fourth. He had no comment after the race.

But crew chief Greg Zipadelli thought the sanctioning body was nitpicking.

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"We weren't over the line, we were on the line by an inch," he said. "What are you going to do? A rule's a rule."

Stewart was unhappy at one point when he tried to pass Newman to get back on the lead lap. He just missed when a caution flag came out, and forced Newman up by the wall after the cars slowed.

Newman thought it was in his best interest to keep Stewart a lap down.

"You can give it to him or they can take it," Newman said. "He wasn't in position to take it, and I wasn't in position to give it to him."

The victory was the first by a Dodge at Dover since Richard Petty in 1976. Dodge was out of the sport for 16 years before returning in 2001.

Even with his victory, Newman is 18th in the title race and trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 569 after 13 of 36 races. Newman has acknowledged he needs to pick up the pace to live up to expectations that he would be one of the favorites to win the championship.

Newman had the fastest car from the outset of the weekend, and won his season-high fourth pole in qualifying Friday. He parlayed that into his second victory this year and third overall.

His Dodge led 162 of 400 laps in the $4.7 million race on The Monster Mile, and beat the Chevy of Gordon by 0.834 seconds on an overcast day in which temperatures were in the 50s and the wind was blowing between 20-25 mph.

After the Chevys of Labonte and Stewart came the Pontiac of Johnny Benson.

The winner's average speed was 106.896 in a race slowed nine times by caution for 68 laps. There were 16 lead changes among 10 drivers.

Rusty Wallace was sixth, followed by Kenseth, who now leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 171 points. Earnhardt finished 11th after being forced to start at the rear of the field because he wrecked his car in practice Saturday and used a backup.

Eighth was Ricky Craven, followed by Robby Gordon and Terry Labonte.

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