Ryan Newman took a big step in his Chase hopes by claiming his first win of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season at Loudon from pole position after a fuel-saving run, as Stewart-Haas Racing claimed its first 1-2 finish.
The Indiana-born racer defied the odds by stretching his fuel mileage long enough while remaining in control once he overtook Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer for the lead following the penultimate restart. Given the way the last few cautions fell and with track position being crucial, most of the top runners had to save fuel in their last stint, some managing to just make it to the end while others could not.
Penske's Kurt Busch was running second to Newman in the final stint but ran out on the final lap, finishing 10th, while Tony Stewart, who had pitted for the last time later than his teammate, was able to attack in the last few laps on his way to second place ahead of Denny Hamlin.
The Stewart-Haas pair had swept the front row of the grid in qualifying and finished in the same order after the 301 laps. That feat marks the first time a team has swept the front row and the top two spots in the race since Darrell Waltrip and Ken Schrader did so in the 1989 Daytona 500 for Hendrick Motorsports.
"I knew I was doing a really good job of saving fuel, which is not the easiest thing to do," said Newman, who got a perfect score by also leading the most laps. "Here is easier than other racetracks, but still not easy. The saving grace we had was a good racecar, we were able to pull out a lead and maintain that lead."
Newman's win moved him up a spot in the standings to eighth place, but his victory gives him a mulligan that places him solidly in contention for a Chase berth in eight weeks' time. His teammate and team co-owner Stewart's second place did not help him much in the standings as he is still 11th, but the two-time Cup champion was very pleased with his outfit's performance, which was arguably its best ever.
"It was a perfect day for the organization, for sure," said Stewart. "This is a perfect way to go into an off weekend. Especially going into Indy, man, this is big for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing."
Hamlin overcame a spin following contact with AJ Allmendinger almost halfway through to race his way up to third in the end, succeeding with fuel-saving tactics which had not been his team's strong suit recently. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano was fourth, ahead of a charging Jimmie Johnson, who was sixth following a spin while battling for position with Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya 72 laps from the end.
Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon looked to be the car to beat but ran into electrical issues that put him a lap down. Impressively, he made it back up to third but while running fourth shortly before the checkered flag his car's right-front tire blew, forcing him to coast to 11th.
"Between the alternator issue, which caused me to have to turn off my A/C and brake blowers, which probably ultimately blew that right front tire at the end," said Gordon, "it was a challenging day in a lot of ways."
Former points leader Kyle Busch had a similar tire-related issue which sent him against the wall and to the garage area for lengthy repairs. Carl Edwards was 13th and regained the points lead while Kurt Busch and Johnson moved up to second and third, respectively, ahead of Kevin Harvick, who could only finish 21st today.
Results - 301 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet 3h03m33.000s
2. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 0.773s
3. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 3.488s
4. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 8.125s
5. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 8.481s
6. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 8.504s
7. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 12.211s
8. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 12.486s
9. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 12.731s
10. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 13.082s
11. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 14.325s
12. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 16.529s
13. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 16.844s
14. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 17.943s
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 18.960s
16. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 21.169s
17. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 21.572s
18. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 21.871s
19. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 22.044s
20. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 22.302s
21. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 22.506s
22. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 22.848s
23. JJ Yeley Front Row Ford + 25.965s
24. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 26.420s
25. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 26.916s
26. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 1 lap
27. Scott Wimmer Gordon Dodge + 1 lap
28. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 1 lap
29. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 1 lap
30. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap
31. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap
32. Mike Bliss FAS Lane Ford + 2 laps
33. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 3 laps
34. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 18 laps
35. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 44 laps
36. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 77 laps
David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 159 laps
Casey Mears Germain Toyota 83 laps
Erik Darnell Whitney Chevrolet 72 laps
Michael McDowell HP Toyota 46 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 37 laps
Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 17 laps
Jeff Green Front Row Ford 11 laps