April 02, 2012 | By Mike Hembree - SPEED.com
Newman Wins In Wild Finish
Courtesy of Speed.com
Ryan Newman spoiled the Hendrick Motorsports party on Martinsville’s longest day.
Newman came from nowhere to win the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway Sunday, emerging from a jam of traffic in overtime to score his first win of the season.
The race decision appeared to be between Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon with a few laps to go, but a late-race caution caused by David Reutimann’s car stalling on the frontstretch opened the door for others.
It sent the race into overtime, and the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish ended in calamity as Clint Bowyer tried to make a three-wide pass for the lead in the first turn.
That didn’t work.
Bowyer bumped Gordon, who bumped Johnson, who spun. Bowyer wound up spinning, also, sparking a caution.
Newman, who had hit Bowyer’s car in the rear as the green flew, slipped through on the inside and took the lead.
Newman, on the way to logging his 16th career win, stayed in front for the second green-white-checkered and outran AJ Allmendinger for the victory. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. followed.
The overtime sent the race length to 515 laps, an all-time record for the half-mile track, which opened in 1947.
Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. were trying to score Hendrick’s 200th Sprint Cup win, and Earnhardt was among the drivers irritated at Reutimann for stopping on the frontstretch near the end of regulation racing, causing the caution and setting up the field for the wild finish.
Earnhardt said he wanted to hear an explanation from Reutimann. After being read some of Reutimann’s post-race comments, Earnhardt refused comment.
“I don't even know how the race ended up finishing, but I just hate that I was involved in anything that changed the complexion of the race, so I got to apologize to the guys that it affected,” he said. “It broke a tie rod or something like that. I was just trying to limp around there. We needed to finish the next couple of laps to try to stay in the top 35 [in points].”
Reutimann finished 35th in the race, dropping the No. 10 team to 36th in the owner point standings. That puts the team, with Reutimann driving some races and Danica Patrick others, into the group that does not have a guaranteed starting spot.
“The motor had been breaking up for the last couple of laps,” Reutimann said. “Broke a timing belt or whatever down the back straightaway, and the motor just quit. I would not have stopped on the freaking racetrack. I would have limped it around there and come to pit road, which is what I was trying to do. The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I just didn't stop there intentionally. I know it sucks. I hate it for everybody that it affected, but I mean I can't get out and push the thing.”
Johnson said Bowyer, who made a dramatic move trying to win the race, should have been more patient. “We had just restarted and got going,” he said. “That inside lane is awfully inviting at times. The 15 (Bowyer) threw a dive bomb in there. I’m sure once he got in there he realized it wasn’t a good idea. I guess he thought 12 tires were better than four.”
Gordon admitted to initially being “pretty mad” at Bowyer. “He said he got hit from behind by the 39 (Newman),” Gordon said. “He came through there with so much speed, there was no way.”
Gordon and Johnson were wrestling side by side for the lead with two laps to go when the caution flew because of Reutimann’s car. Gordon had just edged in front of Johnson for first place.
That put the race into extra laps, and all of the leaders except Gordon and Johnson pitted for fuel and tires.
On the restart, Bowyer and Newman surged toward the front with fresh tires, but Bowyer’s charge on the inside in the first turn didn’t stick, sparking the caution and setting up the end of the race.
After a fierce battle at the front involving Johnson, Gordon and Denny Hamlin, Johnson took the lead from Hamlin on lap 393 and stayed in front until the closing laps. Gordon ran in his shadow much of that time.
Johnson grabbed the lead from Gordon on lap 356. That marked the conclusion of a remarkable rally by Johnson, who had been penalized for speeding on pit road early in the race, a penalty that sent him to the rear of the field.
The race’s fifth caution flew on lap 361, sparking a critical round of pit stops. Johnson led at that point, but he dropped to third – behind Hamlin and Gordon – after the pit-stop round.
Gordon dominated the first half of the race, leading 217 of the first 250 laps.
He held the lead on lap 246 when Dave Blaney caused the second caution of the day when he spun into the wall in turn two.
Kasey Kahne, who had been racing in the top five, drove into the garage during the caution and later parked his car with engine failure, continuing what has been a wicked season for the Hendrick driver.
During a long green-flag run from laps 105 to 245, Earnhardt Jr. held the lead for three laps, causing a major eruption in the grandstands.
In a scenario unusual for Martinsville, the race went almost 100 laps from the start without a caution flag.
The first one appeared on lap 99 when Kyle Busch, whose car did not perform well from the green flag, whacked the outside wall. Busch drove to the garage for repairs.
Kevin Harvick outran pole winner Kahne on the first lap and led the first 22 before giving way to Gordon, who led laps 22-99.