Newman nabs first win of year

Monday, June 21, 2004

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Ryan Newman knew he hadn't forgotten how to win.

"I wasn't super concerned," said Newman, who led NASCAR's Nextel Cup series with eight wins last year, but hadn't won in the first 14 races of 2004.

"We've had some great runs and my mistakes have kind of killed it, but nobody on our team doubted we could still win races," he added Sunday after coming from a lap down to win the DHL 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Newman had not finished better than third this year and it didn't look like this was going to be his day, either, when the radiator on the front of his Penske Racing South Dodge became blocked by trash early in the race. The engine overheated, forcing Newman to make a green flag pit stop on the 22nd of 200 laps.

"We just picked up some paper or something and had to make a stop," Newman explained. "We played the safe car. It's definitely not what you want to see happen, but you've got to have confidence in yourself and your team to be able to fight back.

"And nobody said one thing about 'Oh man, this is it, this is the end of the day.' There were a lot of laps left to get it back and then work some track position or some strategy. Fortunately, we had a fast enough car and we could just work our way up through there."

Newman regained the lead lap near the midway point in the race and steadily worked his way forward, passing Dale Jarrett for the lead on a restart on lap 178.

The victory was the 10th of Newman's Nextel Cup career.

Jarrett, who held on to finish third for his first top-five finish since he won at Rockingham in the second race of 2003, was unable to stay with Newman at the end. He couldn't hold off hard-charging rookie Kasey Kahne for the runner-up spot on lap 199.

Sterling Marlin finished sixth after having one of the strongest cars all day and leading several times. Marlin fell out of contention when he pitted for the final time under caution on lap 176.

Jarrett took the lead and Newman moved to second when both chose to stay on the track and gamble on going the rest of the way without changing tires or adding gas. Both had pitted on lap 152.

After two weeks of confusion and controversy over scoring problems and miscues by NASCAR officials, Sunday's race came off without a hitch. But there were some questions when a caution flag came out on the final lap with the crashed car of P.J. Jones sitting in the middle of the track in turn two, far behind the leaders.

NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said the yellow was waved because there were at least six cars racing on the track behind Jones' wreck and NASCAR did not want to delay the safety crew from reaching him. Jones was not injured.

Jimmie Johnson finished fourth and moved ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. by seven points in the season standings. Earnhardt struggled most of the day, lost a late gamble on a two-tire stop and finished 21st.

It looked for a while like pole winner Jeff Gordon was going to run away with the race. He led 81 of the first 88 laps before the engine in his Chevrolet blew up in a cloud of white smoke.

"We're making such great power these days and we've got the reliability," Gordon said of his Hendrick Motorsports team. "Unfortunately, that wasn't the case today."

Tony Stewart also had a difficult day after being penalized and sent to the rear of the 43-car field for the start for leaving the prerace drivers meeting early. The former series champion worked his way back to the top 10, but crashed with Greg Biffle on lap 193, bringing out one of the nine caution flags in the race.

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