By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Until the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, Ryan Newman had yet to finish in the top five in 2016. Before Saturday night’s race, Newman’s best finish this season was seventh at Kansas Speedway, seven races ago.
Newman was 14th fastest in the opening practice, but hung around the middle of the speed charts the rest of the weekend. Newman also started 14th on the newly repaved and reconfigured track after qualifying was rained out.
Newman was able to keep his nose clean through the early stages of the race that saw high attrition as Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and others were involved in accidents. Newman slid back to the 20th position as the carnage took place. Newman quickly moved back up to the ninth position by lap 90.
Newman stayed just inside the top 10 for the next 60 laps until he fell back to 20th during a round of pit stops. Newman slowly climbed up to the 13th position before stalling out. A caution with about 70 laps to go, just on the outside edge of the fuel mileage window changed everything. Many teams pitted, with some not filling the tank, believing another caution would fly.
Newman restarted in sixth and slid back to seventh as some went into fuel conservation mode while others continued to push hard. As the race came down to the final 20 laps, Newman found himself in the top 10 with several drivers, including himself, questionable on making it to the end on fuel. Several drivers including Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch all ducked onto pit road for fuel in the waning laps.
As more drivers continued to pit, Newman found himself in the top five with just under 10 laps to go. Race leader Brad Keselowski slowed dramatically as he attempted to save enough fuel for the finish. Second place Carl Edwards and Newman cut their deficit quickly.
Keselowski momentarily ran out of fuel coming to take the white flag, allowing Edwards to catch Keselowski. It was unclear if Keselowski or Edwards would have enough fuel to make it to the end. Keselowski was able to restart his engine and hold off Edwards to the finish. Newman finished third, just over two seconds behind the two leaders as he continued to save fuel.
A relieved and tired Newman analyzed his third place finish with a smile.
“We had a good car. We really struggled like most people did in dirty air. Track position was definitely key,” Newman said. “I’m proud of these guys, the Caterpillar Chervolet, the ECR guys obviously did a good job on the fuel mileage to make that happen. The drivers that made it knew what we were doing, it was only a matter of if we were as good as we thought we were. Just proud of the guys, it’s something to build on, the first top five of the year. We were out (of fuel). We didn’t have enough to do burnouts.”