Newman wants winning habit back

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 21, 2004

BROOKLYN, Mich. - Winning is a habit that Ryan Newman wants to get back into.

After topping NASCAR's Nextel Cup series in 2003 with eight victories, Newman went the final six races of last season and the first 14 this year before finally finding his way back to Victory Lane on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

''I wasn't super concerned,'' Newman said. ''We've had some great runs and my mistakes have kind of killed it, but nobody on our team doubted we could still win races, and I know we're going to win some more.''

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To win the DHL 400, the 10th victory of his career, Newman had to recover from an unplanned pit stop to remove trash blocking the radiator grille on the front of his Penske Racing South Dodge.

That put him a lap down after only 22 of 200 laps on the two-mile oval, owned by team owner Roger Penske.

''We just picked up some paper or something and had to make a stop because the motor was really getting hot,'' Newman explained. ''We played the safe card. It's definitely not what you want to see happen, but you've got to have confidence in yourself and your team to be able to fight back."

Newman regained the lead lap near the midway point in the race and steadily worked his way forward, passing Dale Jarrett for the lead on a restart on lap 178.

Nine different drivers had won here in the last nine races, but Newman, also the winner last August, ended that streak. He became the first driver to win back-to-back races at MIS since Mark Martin in August 1997 and June 1998. It was the 10th victory of his Cup career.

Jarrett, who held on to finish third for his first top-five finish since he won at Rockingham in the second race of 2003, was unable to stay with Newman at the end.

He couldn't hold off hard-charging rookie Kasey Kahne for the runner-up spot on lap 199.

Sterling Marlin finished sixth after having one of the strongest cars all day and leading several times. Marlin fell out of contention when he pitted for the final time under caution on lap 176.

Jarrett took the lead and Newman moved to second when both chose to stay on the track and gamble on going the rest of the way without changing tires or adding gas. Both had pitted on lap 152.

After two weeks of confusion and controversy over scoring problems and miscues by NASCAR officials, Sunday's race came off without a hitch. But there were some questions when a caution flag came out on the final lap with the crashed car of P.J. Jones sitting in the middle of the track in turn two, far behind the leaders.

NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said the yellow was waved because there were at least six cars racing on the track behind Jones' wreck and NASCAR did not want to delay the safety crew from reaching him. Jones was not injured.

''I'm glad the fans saw a noncontroversial race and a great race,'' said Elliott Sadler, Jarrett's Robert Yates Racing teammate, who finished fifth after running near the front most of the day.

The final yellow flag kept Newman from having to deal with the fast-closing Kahne. The 24-year-old Evernham Motorsports driver, still looking for his first win, came up with his fourth second-place finish of the season after also charging back from losing a lap early with handling problems.

''We were on newer tires, so I think at any time we could have caught him,'' Kahne said. ''We were pretty darn good there at the end. If it had gone to the finish, I would have come up about a car length short.''

Jimmie Johnson finished fourth and moved ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. by seven points in the season standings. Junior struggled most of the day, lost a late gamble on a two-tire stop and finished 21st.

Defending series champion Matt Kenseth was seventh, followed by Bobby Labonte, rookie Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip. Kurt Busch, last year's race winner, finished 11th.

It looked for a while as through pole-winner Jeff Gordon was going to run away with the race. He led 81 of the first 88 laps before the engine in his Chevrolet blew up in a cloud of white smoke.

''We're making such great power these days and we've got the reliability,'' Gordon said of his Hendrick Motorsports team. ''Unfortunately, that wasn't the case today.''

Tony Stewart also had a difficult day after being penalized and sent to the rear of the 43-car field for the start for leaving the prerace drivers meeting early. He worked his way back to the top 10, but crashed with Greg Biffle on lap 193, bringing out one of the nine caution flags in the race.