Ryan Newman, who barely squeezed into the 10-man Chase for the championship, got off to a fast start Sunday in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff for the Nextel Cup title by out-dueling points leader Tony Stewart down the stretch to win the Sylvania 300 at Loudon, N.H.
Stewart, who started from the pole, led 173 of the 300 laps. But Newman won a late battle with Stewart, passing him on Lap 299 and holding the top spot by two car lengths.
“Tony wasn’t happy with the balance of his car at the end,” said Newman, who led 66 laps. “His car was going away at the right time for me. It was going away faster than mine. But that’s the best racing I’ve seen at this track.”
Following the final pit stops by the leaders, Newman found himself just ahead of Stewart when the green flag waved with 16 laps to go after the last of 10 caution flags.
The streaking Stewart, on the way to his 13th consecutive finish of eighth or better, pulled up to the rear quarter-panel of Newman’s Penske Racing South Dodge time after time before finally slipping below him on the backstretch on Lap 292.
But Newman stayed with Stewart, got beneath the Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet on Lap 299 and pulled ahead, staying out front to win by 0.292 seconds.
Chase contenders Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, each in a Ford, finished third and fourth.
Said Newman about his battle with Stewart: “Getting back by him was a lot easier than him getting by me because I was giving him everything I could. I just did exactly the same thing to him that he did to me.”
Stewart was philosophical about the race.
“I got used up a little bit on running on the high side, but that was a good race,” Stewart said. “But that was some kind of short-track racing right there. That’s the way the Chase should start, just like that.”
It was the 12th win of Newman’s career and moved him from 10th in the standings -- a position he barely grabbed with a 12th-place finish the previous week at Richmond -- to a tie for third with teammate Rusty Wallace, both of them trailing Stewart by 40 points and Biffle by 20.
Wallace finished sixth in a Dodge, with Chase contenders Mark Martin seventh in a Ford, Jimmie Johnson eighth in a Chevrolet and defending champion Kurt Busch, involved in a crash on the second lap of the race, 35th in a Ford.
Busch was sent spinning into the wall in a collision with Scott Riggs on the second lap.
Busch drove his battered, smoking car to the garage and strode to Riggs’ pits, where he climbed up the pit box and spoke for a few moments to Riggs’ crew chief Rodney Childers.
Asked what Busch said to him, Childers said, “They’ve had some past experiences with stuff. He took us out at Indy and we forgave them. This was an accident and he’ll have to forgive us.”
Busch stalked back to the garage, where his team worked to get the car repaired. Busch, who began the race in fifth place, 20 points behind Stewart, finally returned to the race on Lap 68, 66 laps behind the leaders.
With the help of attrition, Busch worked his way up from 43rd to 35th, a difference of 24 points.
Tony Schumacher won the Toyo Tires Nationals for a third season in a row to extend his lead in the NHRA standings to 100 points.
Schumacher inched closer to a second consecutive and third overall series championship by defeating his closest chaser, Larry Dixon, with a pass of 4.498 seconds at 323.74 mph to Dixon’s 4.575 at 322.11 at Mohnton, Pa.
In Funny Car, Tony Pedregon ended a nearly two-year winless streak with a pass of 6.349 at 191.02 to beat John Force’s 8.339 at 125.82.
Greg Anderson ran a 6.721 at 205.19 to beat Jim Yates, who ran a 6.771 at 204.57, and extended his lead in Pro Stock to 176 points over Kurt Johnson, and Angelle Sampey ran a 7.139 at 191.84 to defeat Ryan Schnitz’s 7.459 at 181.13 for her second Pro Stock Motorcycle win of the year and 37th of her career, the most by a woman in NHRA history.
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Nextel Cup standings through 27 of 36 races:
*--* Driver Points Behind Tony Stewart 5,230 -- Greg Biffle 5,210 20 Ryan Newman 5,190 40 Rusty Wallace 5,190 40 Matt Kenseth 5,180 50 Jimmie Johnson 5,177 53 Mark Martin 5,176 54 Jeremy Mayfield 5,135 95 Carl Edwards 5,121 109 Kurt Busch 5,088 142