Newman's strategy pays off in Michigan

Posted: Monday, August 18, 2003

BROOKLYN, Mich. With the laps winding down and gas a big question mark, Ryan Newman asked permission to go after leader Kurt Busch in Sunday's GFS Marketplace 400.

''Seeing that there were five laps to go and we had a shot at catching Kurt, I didn't want to ... have plenty of fuel left over and say, 'Man, we could have chased him down but we were too conservative,''' Newman said. ''But I didn't want to jeopardize the team because of my greed and (mess up) a good finish, so I asked for permission to make that move.''

It worked as Newman was able to stretch his final tank of gas 52 laps on the 2-mile oval at Michigan International Speedway to win for the fifth time this season.

Matt Borland, Newman's crew chief on the No. 12 Penske Racing South Dodge, said, ''Ryan saved quite a bit of fuel there at the end. He's real good at that and still carrying a lot of speed.

''With four laps to go, we just told him to go for it and we'll see what happens.''

Busch, who also gambled on having enough gas at the end, came a lap short and wound up 18th.

Busch had more problems after the race when Jimmy Spencer hit his car from behind and turned it around on pit road, then went up to Busch's car and allegedly punched him in the face.

NASCAR talked with both drivers and said it would look into the matter further on Monday. A spokesman for the Lenawee County Sheriff's Dept. said the department was considering filing assault charges against Spencer.

Belterra Casono Indy 300

SPARTA, Ky. Maybe it was the new engine in his Chevrolet, or maybe Sam Hornish Jr. just didn't want to surrender his status as the Indy Racing League's top driver.

Whatever the reason, Hornish, the two-time defending IRL IndyCar Series champion, set series records for average speed and career wins Sunday in the Belterra Casino Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

The 24-year-old Hornish averaged 197.897 mph, shattering the series speed record of 180.917 mph, set by Alex Barron on July 27 at Michigan International Speedway.

The CART series speed record is 197.995 mph, set by Jimmy Vasser at California Speedway on Nov. 3, 2002.

Hornish's win in a Pennzoil Panther Racing Chevrolet was his first this season but his ninth in an IndyCar Series race. No other driver has won more than eight series races. Hornish has won all three races in which he has started on the pole, as he did Sunday.

''You really have to have the car handling well around here,'' Hornish said. ''I could move it anywhere I wanted. One of the things I had today is I could run on the bottom, where it's bumpier, but it's a faster line. I just kept it where it needed to be and we ran a great race.''

Hornish wasn't slowed much by caution flags. The race went under the yellow only once, another series record. The previous record low for caution flags was two, at Walt Disney World in 1997.

The first 146 laps were run under a green flag, setting two more series records. The previous record for laps under green to start a race was 100, set June 15 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. The record for consecutive laps under green had been 123, set at Walt Disney World in 1996 the series' first race.

Hornish's victory came against the closest starting field by time in series history. The 20-car field was separated in qualifying by .5367 of a second. The previous closest field was in 1999 at Atlanta, when a 25-car field was separated by .62.

Like other Chevrolet drivers on the IRL circuit, Hornish received a boost when the IRL approved a new engine for those cars on July 19. Kentucky hosted the first event in which all the circuit's Chevy drivers competed with the new powerplant.

''I was lucky the car was as good as it was today,'' Hornish said.

Hornish led for 181 laps of the 200-lap race. Only two other drivers, Scott Dixon and Bryan Herta, finished on the lead lap. Dixon, driving a Toyota for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, trailed Hornish by 1.1712 seconds, with Herta almost 15 seconds behind.

''Those guys were setting a pace, and we were trying our best, but we just couldn't match it,'' Herta said of Hornish's team.

Al Unser Jr. and Helio Castroneves rounded out the top five.

Series leader Tony Kanaan finished sixth and maintained his narrow lead in the point standings. Kanaan has 385 points, followed by Castroneves (377), Dixon (373), Gil de Ferran (372) and Hornish (308). Hornish entered the race seventh in the point standings.

Dixon finished in the top two for the fifth time this season.

Hornish and Dixon started 1-2 and ran that way for much of the race.

Hornish stretched his lead to more than 16 seconds before the lone caution, the result of an engine fire in Kenny Brack's car.

''Sam had a great car today, and we just didn't have enough to catch him today,'' Dixon said.

Eighteen of the 20 cars that started the race finished. Scott Sharp finished 13th but set a series record by starting in his 70th consecutive race. He had shared the previous record of 69 with Eddie Cheever Jr. and Buddy Lazier. Sharp has started every series race since Walt Disney World in 1998.

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