Ryan Newman falls just short of Talladega triumph

John K Harrelson/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

He wasn’t predicted as one of the contenders going into the day, but after leading the field to white flag, Ryan Newman appeared as likely as any to claim a victory at the end of a chaotic afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway.

Unfortunately for Newman, that last lap proved too long to hold the few remaining challengers at bay.

Two weeks removed from his elimination from the playoffs in the Round of 16, Newman survived an attrition-heavy Alabama 500 to find himself in contention to claim his second win of 2017. The Hoosier took the lead from Brad Keselowski on a restart with three laps remaining, and fended off a fierce challenge from Denny Hamlin on the race’s penultimate circuit to hold the top spot until well into the event’s final lap.

Newman held the point through the first half of the last circuit, but found himself a sitting duck with the Team Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano trailing him. Keselowski made a move to the outside of Newman going into Turn 3 with a push from Logano, and ultimately got the better of the Richard Childress Racing veteran in the drag race through the race’s final mile.

After a challenging day, Newman crossed the start-finish line in second at the end of 500 miles – his first runner-up result since the 2014 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“We held them off longer than I expected,” Newman said afterward. “I couldn’t tell how much nose damage I had and I hadn’t led all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I saw the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) car in the mirror backing up and then he lost his draft and then he backed up again and he caught the No. 22 (Joey Logano). That was all it took for him to get a good run.

“I would have maybe played it differently and backed it up in hindsight, backed up to them in hindsight, but I don’t think it would have made a difference. They were double-teaming me and you know it was still a good race to finish second with the Caterpillar Chevrolet.”

Asked about his focus and decisions while trying to win the race from the front, Newman pointed to a variety of factors the race leader must consider while trying to win a restrictor-plate race.

“I was worried about it all,” Newman said. “I was trying to maintain the lead, keep a distance, and block the best I could without getting myself turned around because you can over‑block and be the guy at fault. I just either did it right or didn’t do it right, but either way I’m not in Victory Lane.”

While he didn’t win. Newman’s runner-up result marked his seventh top five of the season – the most he’s managed with RCR, and his highest total since a 2011 season that saw Newman tally nine top fives with Stewart-Haas Racing.

The run also ended what had previously been a difficult stretch for the 18-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner. After entering the playoffs with four-straight finishes of seventh of better, Newman had yet to crack the top 10 through the first four races of the playoffs – finishing no better than 13th and entering Talladega after a disappointing 40th-place effort at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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