Newman gets help, prevails in wild finish at Martinsville
MARTINSVILLE, VA. Ryan Newman needed help and was running out of time. Finally, Clint Bowyer provided an opening with two laps to go at Martinsville Speedway.
Bowyer’s aggressive move took out race leaders Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson entering the first turn, allowing Newman to slide into the lead, and he held off A.J. Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on another restart for his first win in 23 races.
“We were not a dominate race car,” Newman said. “Clint kind of cleared out Turn One for us and we were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.”
The reverse was true for Gordon, who led 328 laps, and Johnson, who led 112. The Hendrick Motorsports teammates seemed poised to battle it out to see which one would give owner Rick Hendrick his 200th Sprint Cup victory, and neither had a chance in the end.
“Jeff and I had been the class of the field so I really thought it was going to be a race between the two of us, and it certainly didn’t turn out that way,” Johnson said.
He wound up 12th, and Gordon was 14th.
Of the restart, Johnson said: “That inside lane is awfully inviting at times to dive-bomb on people. The No. 15 (Bowyer) threw a dive-bomb in there. I’m sure once he got in there, he realized it wasn’t the best idea. It turned me around. It turned the No. 24 around.”
Gordon angrily sought out Bowyer after the race, and heard the whole story.
“He said he got hit from behind by the 39 (Newman),” Gordon said. “I had nowhere to go. Jimmie had nowhere to go. It was pretty unfortunate. ... I didn’t want to see that last caution. We had such a great battle with (Johnson). ... It was going to be an interesting race.
“That’s just the way our year’s been going. It can’t go on like this forever.”
Gordon improved three spots in the points standings, but is still just 22nd.
Allmendinger was second, followed by Earnhardt, Cambridge native Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.
The finish overshadowed what had been a stirring duel between Gordon, a seven-time winner on the 0.526-mile oval, and Johnson, a six-time winner.
Johnson first took the lead when he passed Gordon on the 356th lap. He lost it on pit road, then passed Denny Hamlin to lead again on lap 393. He held off a modest challenge by Gordon with about 30 laps to go and then dueled side-by-side with his teammate until the caution, which came when David Reutimann ran out of gas near the entrance to turn one.
Gordon, who had just nudged in front of Johnson before the yellow flag came out, was the leader, with Johnson second and everyone behind them heading to pit road for tires.
What had been an atypically clean raced turned into mayhem on the restart.
Earnhardt, who was in position to give Hendrick a sweep of the top three spots before the caution, said everyone being on fresh tires played a factor in the crash.
“We all took off and ran into the back of the leaders, all of us,” he said.
Earnhardt had no issue with Bowyer for trying to take the inside line, saying that’s how you approach a two-lap sprint, but was at a loss to explain Reutimann’s actions.
Reutimann said his motor just died.
“I would not have stopped on the freaking racetrack. I would have limped it around there and come to pit road, which is what I was trying to do,” he said. “The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I just
didn’t stop there intentionally.”
Greg Biffle, who finished 13th, remained the points leader by six over Earnhardt.
Eau Claire native Paul Menard finished 26th, and Janesville native Travis Kvapil was 27th.
Power surges to IndyCar victory in Alabama
At Birmingham, Ala., Will Power surged from the pack to win his second straight Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, once again holding off Scott Dixon.
Power started ninth but took the lead on a late caution and pulled back in front of Dixon on the double-file restart with 16 laps left Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park. It was the second straight win for Chevrolet and Team Penske, which is also 3 for 3 in the Alabama race.
Power and Dixon pulled away from the field for a 1-2 finish, just like a year ago. St. Petersburg winner and pole-sitter Helio Castroneves of Penske edged Graham Rahal for third.
It was another tantalizingly close call for Dixon, who has been runner-up in the season’s first two races and all three years at the tree-lined 2.38-mile road course in suburban Birmingham.
Dixon couldn’t muster much of a challenge in the final laps, finishing 3.37 seconds behind.
Rahal couldn’t find a way past Castroneves, the 2010 winner.
The focus returned to racing after the emotional weekend in St. Petersburg, the adopted hometown of Dan Wheldon and the first race since Wheldon’s fatal crash in October’s season finale. Power matched Wheldon’s 16 career wins in Indy cars, 14 of them coming on road or street courses.
The race provided significantly more maneuvering after Power led from wire to wire in 2011. Dixon beat Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe out of pit road on the first stop to move up front but lost precious time and the lead on the second.
Rookie Simon Pagenaud was fifth.
Formula One veteran Rubens Barrichello had a strong performance in his second IndyCar race, finishing eighth. Defending series champion Dario Franchitti moved up eight spots after a rough qualifying session and was 10th, still a slow start by the standards of Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi teammate.
The new cars’ safety measures still haven’t been put to the test by the first two races. There was some attrition starting moments after the race began.
Lotus cars had a mixed performance. Alex Tagliani didn’t make it through the first lap before mechanical failure ended his day. Charlie Kimball went into the gravel midway through. Takuma Sato had to pull off the track on the 54th lap, climbing out and walking down the grass back to pit road.