Nineteen. That’s how many drivers have visited Victory Lane since Ryan Newman.
That changed on Sunday as Newman won Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix and finally said “hello” to Victory Lane again for the first time in 127 long races.
“There's a lot of guys in this sport that have never won,” said Newman following the race. “Going a long time without winning, you have confidence in your mind that you can do it.”
Over the course of his career, Newman has learned to never take any win for granted.
“There's guys that go their whole career and never win, and [they’re] good drivers, too,” said Newman. “You just got to stay humble. This sport, you walk away from it, there's one guy that wins, 39 losers. You have to be humble walking into it that you're probably not going to win that day. Odds are against you.”
The odds were in Newman’s favor when his crew chief, Luke Lambert, made the call to stay out for the final restart.
“I felt confident it was the best call for us,” said Lambert, who rejected Newman’s idea of coming in for two tires. “I'm not going to say when I made the decision I was confident we were going to win the race. But it was the only opportunity we had to win the race.”
The call to stay out not only broke Newman’s winless streak, it ended Richard Childress Racing’s 112 race winless drought in the series, too.
“It's been a long, hard fight, and a battle all the way,” said Hall of Fame team owner Richard Childress. “Nobody ever gave up. We never gave up in Ryan. We know that he can do it. Our cars just haven't been quite where we needed them to be. When he stayed out, what won the race is when he drove off in turn three on that final lap. I was really proud of him.”
Newman raced well all day. Starting 22nd, Newman was able to move up throughout the race, finishing ninth in Stage 1 and 12th in Stage 2. However, he wouldn’t have won if it weren’t for the final caution of the race. Outside of his racing team, Newman owes Joey Logano the most for the victory.
With six laps to go, Logano lost his right-front tire, which sent him into the wall and brought out the last caution of the race. Kyle Busch, who was leading the race at the time of the caution, was coasting to a victory. Newman was one of three cars to stay out on old tires as the rest of the field pitted.
Kyle Larson beat Kyle Busch off of pit road, forcing Busch to restart on the third row on the inside lane. On the restart for the two-lap overtime, Newman rocketed to the lead due to a great restart. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch had to maneuver his way around Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had a slow restart.
Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 114 laps, would finish third behind Newman and Larson. For the second straight week, Busch’s day was spoiled by Logano.
Regardless of what led to the win, Newman is relishing it.
“It's sweet for so many reasons,” said Newman. “I said that when I won the Brickyard. I said that when I won at Daytona. This has been the longest drought I've ever been in. The runners up suck. It's just a hard-fought race, a hard-fought battle, a hard-fought four years.”
When asked if ending the drought makes it sweeter, Newman agreed.
“Yeah, the drought makes a difference. It shouldn't, but it does,” said Newman. “That's just the way your mind works. If we go out and win the next three races in a row, it will still feel sweet. After not winning for so long in a sport that's so demanding, it does add some sugar to it.”
The most exciting opportunity for Newman now is what lies ahead of him. The win makes him eligible for the playoffs. Newman, who has never won a NASCAR championship, was runner-up to Kevin Harvick in the 2014 season. That year, he qualified for the championship race after finishing 11th at Phoenix.
“It's a similar feeling of success,” said Newman when asked to compare the feeling between the race at Phoenix in 2014 to Sunday’s win. “That gave me an opportunity at the championship. Today gives me an opportunity at the championship.”
Sunday’s win was Newman’s 18th of his career in the Monster Energy Series. The bulk of those victories came in the 2003 season when he won eight races, the last of which came at Kansas Speedway.After just barely missing the playoffs last year, Newman is one of four drivers already eligible for the 2017 playoffs and has an opportunity at winning multiple races in a season for the first time since 2004.