INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan Newman fulfilled the childhood dream of so many who grew up in Indiana — winning at storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Newman, from South Bend, ended a 49-race losing streak with Sunday’s victory at the Brickyard, and he did it by beating Jimmie Johnson.
Newman set a NASCAR track record in knocking Johnson off the pole in qualifying, then used a fast final pit stop Sunday to snatch the win from the four-time Indianapolis winner.
The two were the class of the field — they combined to lead 118 of the 160 laps — but it was Johnson who dominated the race and appeared to be just a bit better. But Johnson pitted from the lead with 27 laps remaining and it was a slow final stop for the Hendrick Motorsports crew.
Newman pitted after that and took only two tires to move into the lead after the green-flag stops cycled through the field. The closest Johnson would get to him again was when he paid a congratulatory visit to Newman in Victory Lane.
Newman was remarkably composed as he took the checkered flag and in Victory Lane.
“I don’t realize it yet. It’s a dream come true,” he said. “It can’t hit you all at once, it’s not good enough. It will take a week or so for it to sink in.”
The victory comes as Newman is looking for a job.
Stewart-Haas Racing has signed Kevin Harvick to join the team next season, and team co-owner Tony Stewart informed Newman two weeks ago he won’t be brought back in 2014. It didn’t change the post-race mood, as Stewart hustled to Victory Lane, lifted Newman from behind and the two shared a long embrace.
“He just had an awesome weekend,” Stewart said. “I kept looking up the board and watching and I was scared to ask where he was at and how big of a lead he had. I didn’t want to jinx him. Just really proud of him — he’s a great teammate and an even better friend.”
Johnson, the Sprint Cup Series points leader who was hoping to tie Formula One’s Michael Schumacher as the only five-time winners in Indy history, finished 2.657 seconds behind Newman in second.
“There’s definitely disappointment there, but that’s racing. It happens,” Johnson said. “We win as a team, lose as a team. There’s been some late race mistakes on my behalf that have taken race wins away from us. Granted, not a major event like this. We still ended up second.
“We have a lot to be proud of over the course of the weekend. We’ll do the best to let it roll off our shoulders by tomorrow afternoon.”
Kasey Kahne, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, was third and Stewart was fourth as Chevrolet swept the top four spots. All four cars were also powered by Hendrick Motorsports.
“We had pretty good power all day long, there were several scenarios where I noticed it,” Stewart said. “That’s what you expect from Hendrick.”
Matt Kenseth was fifth in a Toyota and followed by Hendrick’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, as all four Hendrick entries landed inside the top seven. Earnhardt rallied from a loose wheel on the opening run of the race to grab his top-10 finish.
“I knew it was loose,” said Earnhardt, adding it was a no-brainer to pit. “You have a wheel falling off, you have something serious happening. Come in, it’s dangerous staying out there. You can hit the wall, or wreck something, or wreck some other people. I don’t want to do that. It is a long race. We had an early chance to fix that, and that is fine. It gave us an opportunity to try some different strategies, and it worked out for us.”
Joey Logano was eighth in a Ford, and followed by Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch, who picked up his first career win at the Brickyard in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.
NASCAR’s 20th running at the historic Brickyard wasn’t the most exciting race — there were three cautions, for stalled cars or debris, and no accidents or spins — and the field spread out into single-file racing and passing wasn’t easy. Montoya complained at one point over his radio that attempting to pass another car only cost him position on track.
“It’s just Indy, it’s always hard to pass,” Kahne shrugged. “The competition’s close, so you can get runs and then you can kill your run a little bit if that guy runs a certain part of the race track. So the guys that know where to put their car when a car being them is faster, it’s tough to pass them.”
The in-race intrigue came via varied strategies among the teams as they all tried different methods to steal a good finish in a race that logged as the fastest Brickyard in history at 2 hours, 36 minutes and 22 seconds.
“Overall I thought it was an exciting race,” said Kenseth. “I thought there was a lot of different strategies there at the end and the two fastest cars ended up battling for the win. It wasn’t any harder (to pass) than normal. It’s just always hard to pass here.”