In the wake of a controversial late-race caution, Ryan Newman spoiled an afternoon of Hendrick hegemony with an opportunistic victory in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
After Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson dominated the action for 497 laps, an untimely caution flag flew on Lap 497 and sent the race to overtime, after David Reutimann stalled on the frontstretch.
Gordon and Johnson stayed out on old tires as the lead-lap cars behind them came to the pits for tires and fuel. On the restart on lap 504, Clint Bowyer took Johnson and Gordon three-wide into the first corner, and all three cars spun, ruining a potential 200th victory party for Hendrick Motorsports.
After the dust settled, Newman cleared runner-up AJ Allmendinger on the second lap of a green-white-checkered-flag restart and held on to win by .342 seconds. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.
The victory was Newman’s first of the season, his first at Martinsville and the 16th of his career. It was the third win of the year in six events for Stewart-Haas Racing.
overcame a pit road speeding penalty and earned a free pass to the lead lap under the third caution before rallying to win. “It was really important to me to not spin my tires and get a good start and race AJ and try to eliminate the 88 (Earnhardt) from the race for the win.”
That’s exactly what Newman did. Over the final two laps, Newman and Allmendinger raced each other hard and cleanly, with Newman taking the green flag from the inside lane and Allmendinger lined up to the outside.
“He ran me really clean,” Allmendinger said. “He didn’t shove me up the racetrack like he could have. He gave me the opportunity to beat him on the outside there. We were just not turning good enough in the center (of the corners) there on the restart.
“But we had a shot at it. That’s all you can ask for.”
The suspense and hard racing of the final two laps was overshadowed by the intensity of criticism in some quarters — notably the Hendrick domain — for Reutimann’s failure to bring his car to pit road. Reutimann broke a suspension part in the late going but remained on the track. Then his engine failed, and his car came to a stop at the end of the frontstretch.
“I would like an explanation on why that happened, from him, his crew chief, somebody,” said Earnhardt, who was running third when the caution flew and likely would have finished there under any circumstances. “But there’s no . . . it doesn’t seem like there could be a logical reason for him to end up stopped on the track.
“He was running around slow; you got a problem, you really . . . get down and get on pit road. I don’t believe he had any trouble getting down. When we went by him the first time, he was low. I would like to hear a good excuse, to be honest with you, because I’m sure it would be laughable.”
Reutimann shares his ride with Danica Patrick, in an arrangement between Tommy Baldwin Racing, which fields cars for Reutimann, and Stewart-Haas, which is supporting a 10-race Cup schedule for Patrick.
A motivating factor in Reutimann’s staying on the track was his desire to keep the car in the top 35 in owners points — and thence exempt from qualifying on speed — until Patrick’s next scheduled Cup start May 12 at Darlington.
“I just hate that I was involved in anything that changed the complexion of the race, so I’ve got to apologize to the guys that it affected,” Reutimann said after the race. “It broke a tie rod or something like that. I was just trying to limp around there. We needed to finish the next couple of laps to try to stay in the top 35.
“The thing quit going down the back straightaway, and it shut off. I just didn’t stop there intentionally. I know it sucks. I hate it for everybody that it affected, but I mean I can’t get out and push the thing . . . I was just trying to finish the day out and trying to stay in top 35, which is why we were trying to limp around out there. They gave me the black flag. We were coming to pit road, and it shut off. And that’s far as I could go.”
Gordon had led 322 laps before Johnson passed him for the top spot on Lap 356. That brought Johnson all the way back from a pit road speeding penalty incurred on Lap 100 under the first caution of the race. Johnson was flagged for speeding on exit and restarted at the tail end of the field.
But with 80 percent of the race ahead of him, the five-time champion had plenty of time to work his way back to the front of the field.
Denny Hamlin beat both Johnson and Gordon off pit road on Lap 363, during pit stops under caution for Travis Kvapil’s spin in Turn 2, but Johnson regained the lead on Lap 393, passing Hamlin to the inside through Turns 1 and 2 after dogging the No. 11 Toyota for more than 10 circuits.
Gordon regained the lead on Lap 497 moments before the caution for Reutimann’s disabled car slowed the race. The eighth caution for the Bowyer/Gordon/Johnson wreck extended the race to 515 laps, 15 past the scheduled distance.
All told, Gordon led 328 laps and Johnson 112, but the two best cars weren’t near the front of the field when Newman took the checkered flag. Johnson came home 12th, the last driver on the lead lap. Gordon finished 14th, a lap down, after running out of fuel during the overtime.