Bob Pockrass, NASCAR Scene
No Guts, No Glory
Ryan Newman told his crew that he was going to either wreck his car or bring home a trophy.
He didn’t wreck his car and brought home the Ford 300 trophy.
Martin Truex Jr. trumped that. Truex wrecked his car and brought home the series championship bounty.
On a wild day, Truex crashed his car in qualifying, scraped his backup car against the wall during the race, survived going a lap down thanks to a loose wheel and wound up seventh to beat Clint Bowyer by 68 points for his second consecutive title.
As Truex won the crown at the 2005 season finale, Newman won his sixth race in his last seven starts. He did so by passing Greg Biffle in Turn 2 following a restart with three laps remaining.
Newman and Truex won six races apiece this year, showing on the track why they deserved big celebrations and all the accolades.
Newman’s victory party came first since he was the race winner. He had led 64 laps but needed a late caution to get to Biffle and have a chance to make the pass for a win.
“I told the guys as soon as the caution light came on, ‘I’m going to apologize right now if this car doesn’t come back in one piece’ – [if that happened] it was because I was trying too hard,” Newman said. “Things just happened right. Biffle opened the outside line to me and my car worked and he didn’t get going as well as he wanted to.”
Truex was next to celebrate, and he was happy that he didn’t back into the championship the way his car backed into the wall in qualifying. Once the race started, Truex worked his way to fourth, got caught a lap down after pitting for the loose wheel 59 laps into the race, fell to 31st and then rallied back into the top three before finally finishing seventh.
With Bowyer struggling all day to finish eighth, Truex truly felt as if he had earned the title.
“I was really, really happy that we were able to race for it and nobody took our chance away to win the title,” Truex said. “That’s what I was worried about the most, starting in the back and having something happen that would not allow us to race for it.
“If we had run 25th all day and got beat, I would have took that and went on. But if something happened that was out of our control [that] would have been hard to swallow.”
It was hard for Truex and crew chief Kevin Manion to figure out if the loose wheel was something beyond their control. The front tire changer told Manion the threads stripped when he tried to tighten the lug nut. Truex figured there should have been no way to have a loose wheel, that with a 64-point cushion heading into the event, a few extra seconds on pit road wouldn’t mean much in the grand championship scheme.
An exasperated Truex told his crew he would have to pit under green and he wound up losing a lap.
“I was real, real nervous when we got that lap down there because you don’t know how these races are going to unfold,” Truex said. “You never know if you are ever going to get the chance to get the ‘lucky dog’ if the race goes green for a long time.”
Truex actually never got that free pass. He wound up taking only gas on the next caution and beat the leaders off pit road for a restart on lap 73. Two laps later, J.J. Yeley scrubbed the wall and Truex got his lap back the old-fashioned way – by being on the tail end of the lead lap when the caution came out.
“I was mad for two or three minutes, and I got over it,” Truex said. “I was a little bit nervous if I was going to get my lap back. ... Once we got on the tail end of the lead lap, I was real happy and I was ready to go.”
Newman’s victory wasn’t as dramatic and certainly wasn’t as stressful as Truex’s championship run. Learning about the track and the tires for his Nextel Cup race, Newman had won the pole for the event and has virtually owned the Busch Series when he has decided to run. Not running every race, he had a stretch of five wins in five starts that could have been six if not for a failed pit strategy at Texas.
He had the strongest car for the first five laps of a run at Homestead, then Biffle had him for about the next 30-40 and then Newman’s car would come into its own again.
Although he advanced to the Chase on the Cup side, Newman’s dominance on the Busch side has been remarkable.
“These cars favor his driving style,” Biffle said. “They drive, not sideways, but yawed out a little bit like a dirt car and they’re forgiving because they have a big spoiler on them.
“The Cup cars don’t have that kind of grip, and you can abuse them a little bit. You can kind of horse them around, and that favors Ryan’s driving style.”
Biffle should know. In Newman’s six wins, Biffle has finished second three times. For the season, Biffle had one win and eight runnerup finishes.
“It’s kind of incredible to finish second that many times,” said Biffle, who finished 10th in points despite running only 27 of the 35 races. “We’ve had a great race car at a lot of these races.
“I would have to say, probably four of those second-place finishes, we had the fastest race car and it was just circumstances that we didn’t win it at the end.”
This was one of those times. And Biffle was resigned to that fact once the yellow came out on lap 195 for a Brent Sherman accident. Biffle had been passed by Newman before on restarts, and he didn’t expect anything different on the final one.
That caution just brought a smile to the faces of Newman and crew chief Roy McCauley.
“I knew we had one shot at this, and Ryan worked a whole bunch of magic,” McCauley said. “It is big for the team as far as momentum goes.”
Newman at least made it quick and painless for Biffle, blistering by him coming off of Turn 2 on that first green-flag lap. It made it a beautiful day for Newman, who said he took time to watch the scenery of the first twilight-to-dark race underneath the lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It was kind of cool because you’d go down the back straightaway and in your mirror, you would see the sun setting,” Newman said. “It didn’t show up on the front straightaway because of the stands. It was actually kind of pretty at the time.”
One guy who had no time to enjoy the scenery was Bowyer, who fought a loose car early in the race and a tight car late. Bowyer said he knew by the second lap that he would need Truex to falter for him to make up the ground he needed in the standings.
“We were teeter-tottering,” Bowyer said. “We were back-and-forth on the setup. That was the most we have ever worked on the car. In a race, it’s usually a wedge adjustment or air pressure adjustment.
“We were throwing spring rubbers at it and everything we possibly could. We just came up a little short.”
After the first 10 or so laps, Bowyer never was in position where he was leading Truex in the points. Even when Truex fell back to 31st, Bowyer was only 16th and not ahead in one of those “if the race ended now” scenarios.
“We were a longshot coming into this thing,” Bowyer said. “I’m just proud of the season we had. It’s been a good season. There’s nothing to be ashamed of by any means.”
Still, it was a disappointing day for Bowyer, who obviously had hoped to capitalize on the Truex misfortune in qualifying and then the loose wheel.
“Martin did what he was supposed to do,” Bowyer’s team owner Richard Childress said. “He did a great job. But what can you say about Clint Bowyer in his first real full season racing for a championship? He won races and put on a great show.
“I couldn’t be prouder. We gave it our all.”
Bowyer went to congratulate Truex after the race. They had waged a tough battle all season, but Truex emerged as the champion thanks mostly to his six wins compared to Bowyer’s two.
Bowyer’s run was an impressive one until Homestead as he rattled off six top-10 finishes over the nine races heading into the season finale and then took a mediocre car and finished eighth.
Truex’s team was surprised that Bowyer struggled, but used that to its advantage. Manion was determined not to lose the crown, and showed that by not taking any chances on the final pit stop with 45 laps remaining.
“I got a little chicken at the end and points raced the last 50 laps, and I wouldn’t free Martin up enough,” Manion said. “He’s probably mad at me for that. Honestly, we probably had a car that could win the race. But I’ll take the heat for that.
“I knew where Clint was running and had been scanning Clint all day. It’s not like them to struggle and they were struggling.”
Pretty much every driver could relate to that kind of day during the Busch Series season, although Truex & Co. had their act together almost every week.
“He’s showed signs of being dominant and showed signs of having problems [this season],” Newman said. “He overcame obviously a big hurdle, pulling out a backup car cold turkey into the Busch race and winning the championship.”
Truex also had to overcome a little bit of a mental block. He admitted he had told himself all week he could lose the title.
“I really was prepared to lose it,” Truex said. “If I lost it, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I kept telling myself all week I was going to win it. I’m just real, real happy with the way it all turned out.”