Newman crowned on mellow yellow

BROOKLYN, MICH. — BROOKLYN, Mich. - NASCAR officials took the pizazz out of another finish with a late caution yesterday. But this time there were no mistakes, just clockwork precision on the final judgment call.

With Ryan Newman leading but Kasey Kahne in hot pursuit and gaining, and less than a mile remaining in the DHL 400, officials threw a caution to freeze the running order.


Kahne's charge was instantaneously bridled, and Newman got the first victory of what had been a sputtering season for last year's winningest driver.

The premature end happened so fast, so late in the last lap, that no beer cans or coolers were thrown in protest by the 150,000-plus spectators at Michigan International Speedway. That was a respite from fan uproars at caution-aborted finishes in recent months.


Afterward, both drivers agreed that Kahne couldn't have passed Newman, even if they'd gone to the checkered flag under green.

"If it had gone all the way to the start/finish [line], he would have beat me by a car length probably," said Kahne, a 24-year-old rookie, after collecting his fourth second-place finish of the season.

"I really don't think he had a shot at all," Newman said, "but obviously he was closing in pretty fast."

The caution came out as the dueling Dodges of Newman and Kahne entered Turn 3, due to a wreck that happened far behind them - P.J. Jones' crash into the wall in Turn 2.

As recently as a year ago, NASCAR rules would have allowed Newman and Kahne to keep racing to the line. And indeed, the track was clear ahead of them.

But the concern was for the safety of Jones and others in the back of the field, and that outweighed a few seconds of extra excitement up front.

"The 50 car [driven by Jones] made heavy contact with the wall, and he had at least six cars behind him," NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said in a clarification. "And we didn't want to delay fire and rescue [teams] to him, due to the severity of the contact."

But just before that, for the first two-thirds of the final lap, Kahne brought the crowd to its feet with his surge.


"I don't know if it was just oil [on the track] or I just hit something or what," said Newman, "but I got really, really loose and had to check up."

That's when Kahne closed the most, but Newman said he had no handling problems entering Turns 3 and 4, and that besides, "He wouldn't have gotten around me, I can guarantee you that."

NASCAR ended its decades-long practice of "racing back to caution" - i.e., back to the start-finish line after a caution flag comes out - last September. Instead, NASCAR now "freezes the field" at the moment a caution begins, allowing no cars to improve position.

That has enhanced safety for both drivers and rescue crews, but it has also caused a lot of confusion this season. Two weeks ago at Dover, Del., officials took 24 laps to sort out a scoring dispute.

Last Sunday's Pocono 500 ended under caution as officials scrambled to deal with a heated game of fender-banging between Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick, and the Pennsylvania crowd was so riled that an assistant flagman was hit with a flying beer cooler.

All of that followed a storm of beer cans thrown onto the track by fans at Talladega, Ala., in April, in protest of an official decision that put Jeff Gordon ahead of crowd favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a locked-in, caution-flag finish.


This time, neither Newman nor Kahne would have been in contention for the win in the first place without all the new rules. Each fell a lap down during the race. But under cautions now, NASCAR allows the top-running driver among lapped cars a "free pass" back into the lead lap.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.