Newman wins Chicago, ends Harvick's streak

Posted: Monday, July 14, 2003

JOLIET, Ill. Ryan Newman and an empty gastank spoiled Kevin Harvick's bid for three straight Chicagoland Speedway victories, with Newman pulling away at the end to win the Tropicana 400 on Sunday.

Newman and Harvick both pitted to top off their tanks on lap 198 of the 267-lap race, hoping to stretch the fuel to the end. Newman made it, and Harvick didn't.

Newman got out of the pits first and took the lead for good on lap 210 when the drivers ahead of him all pitted under caution. Harvick worked his way to second on lap 225 and was close behind when the green flag waved on lap 240 for a restart following the last of seven caution flags in the race.

Harvick, one of only four drivers who have won the first two races at a new track since NASCAR's modern era began in 1972, couldn't catch Newman's Penske Racing South Dodge.

Newman kept edging ahead, moving out to a lead of more than 1 second before Harvick's Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet suddenly slowed three laps from the end.

''He had a fast race car and I was really worried about him until he ran out of gas,'' Newman said. ''I got out there in the clean air and that was pretty much the biggest thing,'' Newman said.

It was a little bit of payback for Newman, who led the most laps in the 2002 Chicagoland race but lost to Harvick because of fuel strategy.

Tony Stewart, who started from the pole, inherited second place, but was unable to challenge for the lead and finished 3.177-seconds about 20 car-lengths behind Newman.

''I think we had the fastest car in the race,'' said Stewart, who led a race-high 80 laps. ''We were proving it at the end with our lap times, but it was just a case of scenarios.

''Ryan and Kevin got away on the restart. I'm happy with the way the weekend went, but it was too bad because we were bad fast.''

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon finished third and fourth as Harvick made a quick stop for a splash of gas and finished 17th, a lap down at the end.

''It's all about track positioning,'' Gordon said. ''You get out front in that clean air and you can just set sail.''

It was the fourth victory of his career and third of the year for Newman, matching Kurt Busch for the most wins in 2003. Busch went out of Sunday's race with a blown engine and finished 39th in the 43-car field.

Newman led twice for 67 laps, averaging 134.059 mph. Jeff Gordon led 47 laps and Harvick 46.

Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip finished fifth, followed by Jeff Burton, Robby Gordon, rookie Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler, Jeremy Mayfield and Bill Elliott, the only other drivers on the lead lap at the end.

The scariest moment of the race came on lap 214 when Johnny Benson and rookie Casey Mears banged together and ignited a five-car melee that ended with Bobby Labonte's car engulfed in flame.

With the fuel fire still raging, Labonte scrambled out the window of the mangled car, stumbled and fell to the grass. He sat for a few moments with his head resting on his knees, but Labonte was not injured.

''I'm fine,'' Labonte said. ''They just had a big incident there ahead of us. I thought I could make it to the outside. All the safety stuff worked pretty good and it took us a long time to get out, but it all worked the way it's supposed to.''

It was the latest in a recent rash of fiery crashes from broken fuel lines.

''I wish they could do something about that,'' Labonte said.

Mike Wallace and Robby Gordon also were involved in the accident, but Mears, Gordon and Benson were all able to continue.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who came in second in the season standings, ran among the leaders most of the day, but lost control and backed hard into the wall on lap 208.

Jeff Gordon moved past Earnhardt into second, moving within 165 points of Matt Kenseth, who was a lap down in 12th. Earnhardt fell to third, 258 points behind.

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