Kentucky race gives Newman a boost
Southsider Voice correspondent
Hoosier Ryan Newman’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup season with Richard Childress Racing got a big boost Saturday with a third-place finish in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
Newman wound up as the odd driver out last season when team co-owner Tony Stewart brought in Kevin Harvick from Childress to join Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick for the current campaign. The South Bend native was sent to Childress.
Newman, last year’s Brickyard 400 winner, had three seventh-place finishes this season and climbed to eighth in points before posting his first top-five finish of the year.
“It’s something to build on,” Newman said. “It doesn’t mean we will go out and win the next race, but it gives us confidence, and confidence is very powerful in our sport.”
The No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet finished behind winner Brad Keselowski, who drives for Roger Penske, and runner-up Kyle Busch, who races for co-owner Joe Gibbs. Newman’s crew had the second-best pit performance of the race.
The 12-year Cup veteran then turned his attention to defending his title at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 27), where he contends the only passing to take place could be at the end of the straightaways, placing a premium on horsepower.
“The cars have too much downforce on them, (so) it’s very important to have good horsepower, and good horsepower will win you races,” Newman said. “We’re working on that part of it for Indy, Pocono and Michigan.”
In the days leading up to the Quaker State 400, the speedway was criticized by most drivers as being rough and bumpy. However, Newman contended that it’s not the track surface; it’s the car chassis.
“We’ve gotten stiffer with the chassis because we’ve gotten lower with the chassis, and that part of it just makes it that much rougher,” the Purdue University engineering graduate said. “It’s like taking a car with no suspension over the railroad tracks. It doesn’t ride like a Cadillac.”
Newman had the best finish among Hoosier-bred drivers as Jeff Gordon finished sixth and Tony Stewart 11th.
Keselowski made up for a pit road speeding penalty that arguably cost him a win in Friday’s 300-mile Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway by winning the Quaker State 400. He led 199-of-267 laps for his 12th Cup triumph.
He suffered physically from another miscue Saturday. In the victory lane celebration, the 2012 Cup champion and his crew were too playful with a champagne bottle that burst in his hand: The result was four stitches. He returned to the stage later to complete the celebratory photos.
Sponsored by Miller Lite, Keselowski laughed, “We should have stuck with beer.”
Noblesville’s Dakoda Armstrong was 20th Friday. Armstrong, who races for Richard Petty, advanced steadily and ran third for a few laps before slapping the Turn 4 wall with only 21 laps to go.
Harvick, driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., led the final five laps to win Friday’s race.
Gibbs on Redskins
Dollar General Chairman and CEO Rick Dreiling announced a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing for 30 Cup races in 2015, up three races from this season.
The company first ventured into major motor sports sponsorship in 2011, when backing IndyCar team owner Sarah Fisher and driver Ed Carpenter, who snared the team’s first win, which was at Kentucky Speedway that year.
Gibbs professed his support of the nickname of the Washington Redskins, which he coached to three Super Bowl victories. He grew up in North Carolina as a Redskins fan.
“In all my years there I never heard one complaint about the name,” he said. “To me it means prideful and courage. … Everything about the name to me has been nothing but praise.”