AVONDALE, ARIZ. – A big gamble in the desert heat ended a long victory drought for Ryan Newman.
When just about everybody else decided to take a tire-changing pit stop in the final few laps on Sunday, Newman figured he’d be going in with them.
His crew chief, Luke Lambert, thought otherwise.
It was a decision that earned Newman a victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, ending his 127-race winless streak.
“A a heck of a gutsy call by Luke Lambert,” Newman said. “It’s his first win as a crew chief in the Cup Series, and I think making a gutsy call like that makes it that much more special for him.”
While the leaders were in the pits, Newman moved from seventh to first and for the final two laps held off Kyle Larson, the second-place finisher for the third straight race. Kyle Busch, the leader for nearly all of the final stage of the race, was third on a day when the temperature soared to 97 degrees at Phoenix International Raceway.
Larson and Busch pitted on the late caution caused when Joey Logano’s car blew a right tire and slammed into the wall six laps from the finish.
When the caution ended, two laps separated him from the victory.
“You’re on old tires. It’s really easy to screw it up,” Newman said. “You’ve got to get your tires cleaned off right, you’ve to get a good launch, you’ve got to run through the gear box right and then you’ve got to hold everybody off.”
Larson came out of the late pit stop with two new tires ahead of Busch’s Toyota and had the best chance to catch Newman.
“I thought he was going to be all over me,” Newman said. “I don’t think he could get going as good as he wanted to.”
Larson blamed his failure to get that victory three races in a row on “little mistakes or inexperience or whatever you want to call it.”
But the runner-up finishes gave Larson the Cup Series points lead, the first time Chip Ganassi Racing has led the points race this late in the season since 2002.
Logano won the first stage and Chase Elliott the second in NASCAR’s new three-stage system. Elliott dominated the second stage but lost the lead after Matt Kenseth, like Logano, blew a right front tire and slammed into the wall on Lap 193 of the 314-lap race.