Ryan Newman passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 11 laps remaining and held on to win the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Newman gambled by changing only two tires on his final pit stop and the payoff was his second career victory and first since Sept. 15, 2002.
Newman, who led four times for 77 laps, appeared to gain control when he took the lead on Lap 224 of the 334-lap event. That came during a caution period -- one of 10 in the race -- in the middle of a series of green-flag stops. Newman hadn’t pitted and found himself in front.
Newman lost the lead for one lap when he made his final stop on Lap 286, but regained it the next time around the 1 1/2-mile oval when Dale Jarrett, who had stayed on the track to get the five-point bonus for leading a lap, made his stop.
Earnhardt’s Chevrolet was second when the green flag came out for the restart on Lap 289 and he took the inside line and charged past Newman’s Dodge.
All the other leaders took four tires on their final stop, and it appeared that Newman’s tire gamble was going to fail. Earnhardt built a lead of up to 20 car-lengths before Newman began to draw closer.
The cars were side by side as they crossed the finish line on Lap 323, and then Newman pulled ahead, moving away to win by 3.405 seconds -- about half the final straightaway.
“It was great when all those lead cars got caught in the pits,” Newman said. “I was worried for sure when Junior passed me after the last stop. I thought for sure they would have made their car a little bit better too.”
Newman gave Penske Racing South its first win since switching from Ford to Dodge this winter. No Dodge driver had finished better than fifth in the first six races this season.
Newman averaged 134.517 mph in the race slowed by 52 laps of caution.
Earnhardt held off Jeff Gordon for second place. Gordon passed Earnhardt on Lap 333, but Earnhardt bumped past Gordon’s Chevrolet on the final straightaway to take the runner-up spot by 0.002 of a second -- a matter of inches.