Newman scorns NASCAR rule, but it helps provide Dover win

DOVER, DEL. — DOVER, Del. - Ryan Newman was adamant. Giving a lap back to a driver as part of NASCAR's new rule in its Winston Cup Series that prevents drivers from racing back to the start-finish line under caution is wrong.

"I don't like it," said Newman before yesterday's MBNA America 400. "There shouldn't be any award for anyone else's yellow. In most situations, it's bad. If they're a lap down, they generally deserve to be."


But that rule was key yesterday. Newman was given a lap back and that, combined with a last-minute fuel stop on Lap 398 of the 400-lap race, enabled him to be in position to hold off Jeremy Mayfield over the final 20 miles and win for the seventh time this season.

Newman averaged 108.802 mph in his No. 12 Dodge for a 1.152-second victory over Mayfield's No. 19 Dodge, while Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon, respectively, rounded out the Top 5.


"Here it is, the first day we run with that rule, and the guy wins the race," said Mayfield, who recorded his second second-place finish in the last three races. "NASCAR has its hands full with that. But I think Ryan would have made his lap up, anyway. His car was that strong. The rule, overall, is good for safety."

NASCAR instituted the rule to avert possible tragedy when drivers race back to the yellow flag after on-track accidents. Incorporated in the rule is the lap give-back provision, because, said the sanctioning body, the sport has always allowed drivers to attempt to unlap themselves in a race to the caution.

Yesterday, for much of the afternoon, the race was safe. But there were several scary moments. Joe Nemechek's Chevrolet hit the first-turn wall on Lap 78 with such force the grandstands shook, the entire right side of his car was torn away and track repairmen needed 20 laps to repair the protective boiler plate in the concrete wall with blowtorches and sledgehammers.

The most potentially serious crash came on Lap 364 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun into the second-turn wall. The on-track rescue crew told Earnhardt's crew chief, Tony Eury Sr., that Earnhardt had been knocked out. He was taken to the infield hospital on a stretcher and was airlifted to Bayhealth Medical Center, where he was examined and released with a bruised right foot and minor concussion.

Earnhardt was trying desperately to make up points on Winston Cup leader Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt had struggled to keep his car low on the one-mile oval all afternoon. Still, he ran consistently in the top three until Eury decided to change just two tires under caution on Lap 328. Earnhardt emerged in second place after the pit stop, but went steadily backward to 19th before crashing.

Adding insult to injury, Kenseth, who ran 18th much of the afternoon, parlayed good gas mileage into a ninth-place finish and increased his lead to 436 points over Harvick. Jimmie Johnson is third, 473 points back, and Earnhardt dropped from second to fourth, 490 points back.

Newman started the day by sprinting into the lead on the 13th lap, but was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 47 after cutting a tire. He dropped to 36th in the field, opening the door for Earnhardt, Harvick, Gordon and Stewart to battle for the lead.

But once Newman regained his lost lap on Lap 287 and made his quick refueling stop, also under the caution, on 292, the outcome seemed pretty much determined. Only Mayfield, who came from his 25th starting spot, had a real chance to prevent Newman from winning on fuel mileage.


And Mayfield worried Newman. He got on his bumper after the restart on Lap 373 and the two dueled for the lead over the next 13 laps. But every time Mayfield found a little advantage, Newman held him off with raw power.

"With four or five laps to go, I radioed [crew chief Matt Borland] and I said, 'I hope we don't run out of fuel, because that was a hell of a race we just had.' " said Newman. "It was the fun part, but keeping the fuel in the car was the most important part."

As for that free pass back to the lead lap, Newman said he still doesn't like it.

"I still believe what I said," he said. "But we dealt with what rules we had to play with today. And that won us the game."

NASCAR Winston Cup Series director John Darby, pleased the drivers understood and followed the new rule, had no problem with the fact it directly affected the results.

"The new procedure was designed in part around giving a front-running car that has unusual circumstances that put it a lap down the opportunity to get a lap back," Darby said. "And that's exactly what happened to the 12 car. It had a cut tire early in the race."