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Newman wins 50th Daytona 500 for Penske

Feb 18, 2008 - 2:27 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Ticker) - The 50th Daytona 500 came down to "the push from heaven" as Ryan Newman won a thrilling duel on Sunday night.

Newman's Dodge got the race-winning push from Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch to give team owner Roger Penske his first-ever win in the Daytona 500.

Penske, winner of a record 14 Indianapolis 500s, got to experience a trip to victory lane in NASCAR's biggest race.

"I don't have the words, it's probably the most awesome thing that ever happened to me," Newman said after the biggest victory of his career. "At the driver's meeting to be looking face-to-face with all the greats that have won this race and now to be part of that team is awesome.

"To win the 50th Daytona 500 is great."

Newman was fourth when the race restarted with four laps to go. He attached his car to the back of Tony Stewart's Toyota to push his way through traffic.

But when teammate Kurt Busch gave Newman a big push on the final lap, they were able to both get past Stewart down the backstretch heading to the checkered flag.

"The leader was a sitting duck on the restart," Newman said of Jeff Burton's Chevrolet. "I didn't think the 31 (Burton) had the greatest car all day. When I pushed Tony through turns 1 and 2 I was pushing him as hard as I could.

"Then Kurt came up from behind me and gave me the push from heaven."

The victory was the 13th of Newman's career, but his first since September 18, 2005 ending an 81-race winless streak.

It was also the biggest paycheck of Newman's career as he won $1,506,045 for putting the Penske Dodge in victory lane. Chrysler chairman Robert Nardelli offered a $1 million bonus to any Dodge team that won the Daytona 500, so team owner Roger Penske now has over two million reasons to celebrate his first ever victory at Daytona.

"Ryan, you did a hell of a job for us," Penske told his winning driver afterwards. "Our 40,000 employees will be high-fiving you now.

"We'll spend the extra million to make the cars go faster, that's for sure."

Penske has visited victory lane at the Indianapolis 500 more often than any team owner in the 92-year history of the race. But the one glaring omission on his list of accomplishments was victory in the Daytona 500.

That was until the two Penske drivers teamed up to win the race.

"Comparing it to the Indy 500, we're open-wheel guys and coming down here has been tough," Penske said. "This has to go to the top of the charts here. My goal now is to go back-to-back with another Indy 500 win in May."

Newman realized his victory would have never been possible without the push from Busch.

"Without Kurt Busch this wouldn't have been possible," Newman said. "This was just a great effort. The guys on this team deserve it. Roger Penske and the whole organization can celebrate this for sure.

"To get this car to victory lane was awesome but I couldn't have done this without Kurt Busch. When Kurt pushed me we just stuck together."

Stewart finished third followed by Kyle Busch's Toyota. Reed Sorenson's Dodge rounded out the top five.

"I just ran the race of my life and just couldn't pull it off," Stewart said after having yet another victory at Daytona snatched away from him. "I don't think too many people would like taking the white flag as the leader and finish third. I tried to win the Daytona 500, what can I say?"

Up front, the Penske Racing duo claimed a 1-2 finish.

"I was very emotional at the start/finish line pushing Ryan Newman to the checkered flag," Kurt Busch said. "I'm very happy and satisfied that I could help my teammate win.

"At least we finished second and pushed my teammate to the win. I'm excited to help him win. For us to finish second, to come back from starting 43rd, this is great. If Newman stayed on the bottom to go with the 20 (Stewart) I could have won this race. It was emotional at the start finish line to finish 1-2 for Roger Penske."

The push past Stewart was all Newman needed to win the race.

There were 42 lead changes among 16 drivers in the debut of the current NASCAR race car in the Daytona 500.

Kyle Busch led eight times for 86 laps, far and away the most of any driver in the race.

But on the final restart, Kyle Busch and Stewart split race leader Burton with four laps to go. But when Busch went below the yellow line to improve his position, he immediately gave the position back so he wasn't black flagged.

Stewart was depending on his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Busch, to help him get to the front.

"My intention was to get down in front of Kyle and try to pull Kyle along with us and have us work together," Stewart said. "I got a run on him on the restart. We've talked all week about the teammate part of the thing.

"On the restart, I hung him out. But I tried to win the Daytona 500."

Stewart was unaware that Kyle Busch had dropped below the yellow line.

"Kyle finally got to me off turn four," Stewart said. "By that time we were both way too far behind to make a charge. We needed another lap."

It was an exceptionally clean race until the last 48 laps. The first caution flag didn't wave until the 81st lap and that was for debris. But after lap 152, there would be six more yellow flags for 23 laps including three cautions in the final 15 laps and two in the final 10.

Stewart and race favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. were charging through the field to get back to the front when Casey Mears pulled up in front of Stewart's Toyota, which already had a nose in that lane.

The contact sent Mears' Chevrolet crashing into the first turn wall for another caution with five laps left to set up the dramatic fight to the finish with Newman emerging as the surprise winner.

Burton was in the lead, followed by Kyle Busch, Newman, Stewart and Earnhardt.

Earlier, the old Strother Martin line in the 1960s film, "Cool Hand Luke" held true for Earnhardt when he did not pit after the yellow flag waved on lap 178.

"What we have here is failure to communicate."

Earnhardt, who had been experiencing radio problems throughout the race, did not hear his crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., tell him to pit late in the race. By the time Earnhardt realized the mistake, he was already past the commitment cone on pit road and had to stay out on the track.

The green flag waved with Earnhardt's Chevrolet in front of Clint Bowyer with 20 laps remaining. Earnhardt's team made a big gamble deciding not to pit during a caution period from laps 178-180, and Earnhardt's tires faded as Bowyer led a long line of cars to take away the lead.

Earnhardt shuffled back to sixth place.

Another yellow flag waved on lap 184 when Bowyer spun out when he was racing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya's Dodge. Bowyer's Chevrolet was sent spinning down the apron but he was able to avoid crashing while the yellow flag waved.

Newman was in front of Montoya when green-flag racing resumed with 13 laps to go.

Burton jumped to the lead out of the second turn when he passed Newman's Dodge with 10 laps to go.

But another yellow flag waved when Dave Blaney's Toyota brushed the third turn wall after Kevin Harvick's Chevrolet tapped him. Mark Martin's car was also involved in the traffic jam on that lap.

Montoya and Denny Hamlin both pitted with nine laps to go during caution.

With eight laps left, the green flag waved for a single file restart with Burton's Chevrolet leading Biffle's Ford and Newman's Dodge into the first turn.

Earnhardt was in eighth-place on the restart as he tried to get back to the front. He would finish ninth.

Another major contender for the race victory experienced a big problem when a broken shock mount sent Jeff Gordon to the garage area on lap 154 during a caution for debris.

When the green flag waved on lap 156, Greg Biffle's Ford was in front of Kyle Busch's Toyota with Stewart third just in front of Earnhardt.

The problem knocked Gordon out of the race.

"It was suspension failure and we saw signs of this during testing," Gordon said. "We did everything we could to brace everything up and prevent this from happening but it's so hard on a track like this for us to be out there. I don't know if anybody has anything for the 18 (Kyle Busch) or the 11 (Denny Hamlin). I thought I was the only one that had something for them before this happened.

"We were just cruising."

Gordon would return to the race later but his chance at victory was over. He would finish 39th.

Two-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson lost control of his Chevrolet coming off the second turn on lap 176. He was turned around when Sam Hornish Jr. made slight contact on the rear of Johnson's Chevy. Martin Truex Jr. also lost control of his car sending it sliding down the backstretch.

A decisive moment in the race came when the leading contenders pitted on lap 179 but Earnhardt chose to stay on the race track. Kyle Busch overshot his pit area as he locked up the wheels on his car. That forced his crew to push him back into the pit area, but he lost positions on the track because of the lengthy pit stop.

In the end, the estimated crowd of 190,000 fans was expecting to see Stewart, Earnhardt or Kyle Busch drive to victory to win the Daytona 500.

What they got was the unexpected 1-2 finish from Penske Racing.

"My dad was spotting for me and I could hear the tears dripping all the way down the backstretch, that's how emotional he was," Newman said of his father, Greg. "Kurt gave me a really great push.

"I got that tingly feeling and you only get that from certain things."

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