Newman takes checkered flag

Published 9:26 am Monday, March 31, 2003

By Staff
MIKE HARRIS, AP Motorsports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Things finally went right for Ryan Newman on Sunday.
First, he caught a break when half the drivers on the lead lap made green-flag pit stops before a caution flag allowed Newman to make his stop without losing ground.
Then, on his final stop, the 25-year-old racer gambled on changing only two tires, lost the lead to Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the ensuing restart but was able to retake the lead from the crowd favorite with 11 laps to go.
Newman pulled away at the end to win the Samsung/Radio Shack 500 by half the final straightaway.
The tire gamble by last year's top rookie paid off with his second career victory and first since Sept. 15, 2002, in New Hampshire.
Newman, who led four times for 77 laps, appeared to gain control when he took the lead on lap 224 of the 334-lap event. That came during a caution period -- one of 10 in the race -- in the middle of a series of green-flag stops.
Newman hadn't pitted, yet, and found himself in front.
Newman lost the lead momentarily when he made his final stop on lap 286. He regained the top spot the next time around the 1 1/2-mile oval when Dale Jarrett, who stayed on the track to get the five-point bonus for leading, finally made his stop.
Earnhardt's Chevrolet was second when the green flag came out for the restart on lap 289, and the son of the late seven-time Winston Cup champion brought most of the crowd of more than 200,000 to their feet when he took the inside lined and charged past Newman's Dodge.
All the other leaders took four tires on their last stop, and it appeared for a while that Newman's gamble was going to fail. After Earnhardt took the lead, he built a margin of up to 20 car-lengths before his car developed a handling problem and Newman began to reel in the leader.
The cars were side-by-side as they crossed the finish line on lap 323, and Newman then pulled steadily ahead, moving away to win by 3.405-seconds.
Newman, one of NASCAR's heralded ''Young Guns'' gave Penske Racing South its first win since switching from Ford to Dodge this winter. No Dodge driver had finished better than fifth in the first six races this season.
Newman, the seventh different winner in 2003, averaged 134.517 mph in the race slowed by 52 laps of caution.
After Newman took control, Earnhardt had to fend off four-time series champion Jeff Gordon for second place. Gordon chased down and passed Earnhardt on lap 333, but Earnhardt bumped past Gordon's Chevrolet on the final straightaway to take the runner-up spot by 0.002 seconds -- a matter of inches.
Said Gordon: ''He made it hard on us. If we'd have been going for the win, we probably would have wrecked.''
Jerry Nadeau finished fourth, followed by Mark Martin and series points leader and last year's Texas winner Matt Kenseth.
Kurt Busch finished ninth and now trails his Roush Racing teammate by 155 points in the standings. Earnhardt jumped from fifth to third, 166 behind Kenseth.
Newman, whose best previous finish in six races this season was seventh in Las Vegas, moved from 15th to eighth in the standings, trailing the leader by 242 points.
There were several crashes in the race, including one involving pole-winner Bobby Labonte, but no injuries were reported. Labonte wound up 37th in the 43-car field.
Labonte's teammate, Tony Stewart, the defending series champion, had a terrible weekend. First, he had his primary car impounded by NASCAR on Friday after it failed inspection. Then, on Sunday, he fell out of the race after 293 laps with an engine problem in his backup car and finished 34th.