SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It was expected to be another Jimmie Johnson runaway as the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet was in prime position to become the first driver to win the Brickyard 400 for the fifth time.
For much of Sunday’s 20th running of this NASCAR race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it appeared that would be the ultimate storyline as Johnson was out front four times for 73 laps.
But it was Ryan Newman of South Bend, Ind., that delivered when crew chief Matt Borland used a two-tire strategy on Newman’s final pit stop of the race on lap 134. Johnson had pitted on lap 133 and his crew changed four tires but the stop took 17 seconds so Newman gained seven seconds on Johnson. Once the pit stop sequence was complete on lap 149, Newman had a command 3.599-second lead over Johnson.
He stayed in front for the final 11 laps to join team owner Tony Stewart as the only Indiana-born drivers to win the Brickyard 400.
“I was thinking, including the Daytona 500 in 2008, every win I’ve had since then has been on the two‑tire strategy on the last pit stop,” Newman said after becoming the eighth driver to win both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in their careers. “Phoenix, Martinsville, and here, Loudon. Track position is so huge.
“I know it’s an amazing feeling. I was more emotional yesterday after winning the pole than I was two laps after doing my donuts and everything else today. I’m not sure why. I took an emotional hit yesterday. It was just an awesome day. Matt and all these guys did a great job. Probably the best race car I have ever driven in my entire life.”
After winning the pole on Saturday, Newman and Borland knew that if it came down to a battle with Johnson at the end, the two-tire strategy would be the path to victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We talked about it a little bit before the race started,” Borland said. “We made our decision the second to the last stop, what we were going to do, got ourselves set up for that position.”
The team also got an unexpected boost when Johnson’s four-tire stop was surprisingly slow. Borland and Newman didn’t realize at the time the four-tire stop took longer than usual but the residual impact was big.
“What happened with Jimmie didn’t really play into our hands much,” Borland said. “We knew we had to do something to win the race, put ourselves in the best tire position. We looked at what the guys did earlier on in the race, taking two tires, taking no tires, and we looked at how many laps we needed to run before we pitted to put ourselves in that good spot.
“It really didn’t have a lot to do with what was going on with the 48 at that time. It had more to do with what happened 140 laps before that.”
Newman started on the pole and led the first 29 laps before making his first pit stop and that is when Johnson took advantage. He got a faster first stop and was in the lead on lap 31. Once in front, Johnson pulled away in a race that had just one pass that was not a result of a green flag pit stop or a pit stop that was the result of a yellow flag.
So Newman decided the best strategy was to play the “Patience Game.”
“I watched Jimmie and kept quiet,” Newman admitted. “I wanted to see who I was placing. I played the old (David) Pearson role. I knew I had a good car. I didn’t want to have a good car and not win the race. Matt’s call gave me the track position I needed, taking the two tires. I was just counting down the laps from that point on.
“I knew a lot of guys needed to pit. I didn’t know how far back Jimmie was. He said four seconds at that point. I knew I had to manage my race car and my tires. I knew it was so difficult to pass. His car was looking looser and looser as I ran behind him.
“It was just an exciting day.”
When Newman won the pole on Saturday for Sunday’s 20th Brickyard 400 he admitted to feeling the emotion. After all, the driver was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana and entering this weekend he was trying to overcome an uncertain future after it was officially announced that he would not be back at Stewart Haas Racing in 2014. Kevin Harvick is joining the team next year and Newman is searching for a ride.
What he accomplished over the weekend has probably made him a hot commodity because the much-needed victory not only gave him a win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; it also makes him a contender for a Wild Card position in the “Chase for the Championship.”
“I don’t know how you could ask for a better week on our side,” said Stewart, who finished fourth. “The first half of the week was great. Yesterday, Ryan going out, last car out, getting the pole, then being in the race today, watching the battle him and Jimmie had all day, just was impressive to watch.
“We were fortunate enough we were pretty much a top‑five car all day, just weren’t good enough to be up there with Jimmie and Ryan.
“Man, I think midway through the race there, we were in a scenario where Jimmie was leading, we were second. When Ryan got to third, like two laps, he caught us. At that point I knew it was down to him and Jimmie.
“Just was fun to watch, nerve‑wracking as a co‑owner. The other car owner is out kissing the bricks, I’m proud for Gene Haas, everybody with Stewart Haas Racing, Mobil 1, Quicken Loans, Bass Pro Shops, everybody involved. For Ryan, a huge day.”