Newman survives it all to win The Winston

Posted: Sunday, May 19, 2002

CONCORD, N.C. -- Ryan Newman led a contingent of young drivers -- who are becoming a major force in NASCAR -- across the finish line to win the all-star race.

Newman survived a myriad of hurdles Saturday night, including a furious battle with Dale Earnhardt Jr., to join Earnhardt as the only rookies to win The Winston, a race dubbed ''Survival of the Fastest'' this season.

''Everything that happened won't set in for a while,'' Newman said. ''We had to work hard for everything, nothing came easy and I'm sure we made a few people mad out there, but that's part of racing.''

Newman, who earned a total of $794,326 on the night, won the first Winston Cup event of his career and matched fellow rookie Jimmie Johnson in the victory column. But Johnson's victory came in a points-paying race.

Johnson, locked in a serious battle with Newman for Rookie of the Year honors, got his first victory last month in California. He finished fifth in The Winston, but won the first two segments to earn $100,000 in bonuses.

''We're both racing with top-notch organizations, we both have great equipment,'' said Newman, who admitted being jealous that Johnson beat him to the winner's circle. ''Both Jimmie and I have grown up racing all kinds of equipment. We have great careers behind us and great careers ahead of us, and it's maybe just the way the cards are getting played right now that we're winning so soon.''

Earnhardt, finished second. Matt Kenseth was third followed by Kurt Busch and Johnson. Seven of the top eight drivers were 30 years old or younger.

''I don't think it matters so much what the age is,'' Newman said. ''Maybe the veterans are supposed to win, but they all mean the same no matter how old you are.''

The 24-year-old Newman had to endure a qualifying race, two elimination rounds, a helmet being thrown at him by Elliott Sadler, two restarts and the battle with Earnhardt to win at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Newman started the 20-lap shootout in fourth place and wasted no time running down leader Tony Stewart, passing him in turn four three laps into it. He had opened up a three-second lead on the field and was on his way to victory when caution came out on lap 84 when Busch spun out Robby Gordon.

It bunched the field back up with five laps to go. Newman got a tremendous jump on the restart, but NASCAR waved it off and made him come back and try it again.

So he had to do it again, duplicating the start and again pulling away.

But Earnhardt sliced his way through the field and was bumper-to-bumper with Newman over the final two laps. He could have won the race by spinning Newman out, but backed off, allowing Newman to win the race.

''I let off because I didn't want to spin him out,'' Earnhardt said. ''And that was the end of the race.''

Earnhardt pulled into Newman's pits to congratulate his crew, then ran over to victory lane to offer well wishes to the rookie.

''It's a huge win, an awful lot of money,'' said Earnhardt, adding his life and career changed when he won the event two years ago. ''The coolness of winning this race would have worn off a long time ago if we were still racing for $200,000, but it's a lot of money for Ryan.

''He'll come out of here with so much confidence in himself and his team and he'll be able to take that with him the rest of the year.''

The event was overhauled this year, with each segment turning into an elimination round under the ''Survival of the Fastest'' theme.

The field started with 27 cars -- 25 eligible drivers and Jeremy Mayfield and Newman, who made the race by winning the qualifying events earlier in the night.

The field was trimmed by seven after the first segment -- four fell out after a wreck -- and 10 more were cut after the second, leaving just 10 cars for the final shootout.

The format left Johnson, Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Ricky Craven, Kenseth, Newman, Kevin Harvick, Gordon and Stewart remaining in the final dash-for-the-cash.

The field was then inverted for the final sprint, with Stewart starting up front and Johnson 10th.

Johnson and Elliott caught a break following the first-segment accident that knocked four of the big names out of the field. Both were a lap down before the wreck because car problems forced them to pit early.

But they benefitted after the wreck that knocked Sterling Marlin, Bobby Hamilton, Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett out of the race.

Marlin, the series points leader, was pointing out his window to signal he planned to head in for the mandatory pit stop. Ward Burton misinterpreted the point and followed him down low on the track, running into the back of Marlin's Dodge, sending him straight into the wall and collecting three other cars.

Marlin, who wrecked the car he planned to bring back here next week for the Coca-Cola 600, didn't know what happened with Burton.

''I don't know what Ward's problem was, I guess you'll have to ask him,'' he said. ''We were just minding our own business down the back straightaway and he just got against us and turned us head on into the fence. It was pretty uncalled for.''

Before the wreck, Johnson and Elliott were almost certainly going to be eliminated from the race.

The highlight of the second, 30-lap segment was Sadler's helmet-throwing temper tantrum after he spun out and wrecked his car. Angry with Newman for earlier contact, he threw his helmet at Newman's car as it circled by under caution.

Afterward, Sadler apologized for the outburst.

''I'd like to apologize to my sponsor for the way I acted,'' he said. ''I probably shouldn't have done that but this is The Winston and I wanted to win this thing.''

Also left disappointed was defending event champion Jeff Gordon, who failed to advance to the final segment by one spot.

Gordon was penalized by NASCAR and sent to the back of the pack because the squeegee used to clean his windshield fell outside his pit box. He had to battle to make it back into the top 10 and fell one spot short, missing a chance to win the event for a fourth time.

''It's pretty disappointing to come out one position shy,'' he said. ''But it's our own fault, we had a dumb problem happen in the pits.''

Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, Joe Nemechek, Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte, Mayfield, Mark Martin, Sadler and Jeff Burton also failed to make it out of the second round.

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