AVONDALE, Ariz.—It was a game of numbers—two and four.
Capitalizing on a late caution that extended Saturday’s Subway Fresh Fit 600 three laps past its scheduled distance of 375 laps, Ryan Newman and crew chief Tony Gibson snatched victory from Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch with a two-tire call under the final caution.
Both Busch and Johnson took four tires on Lap 373, under caution for Scott Riggs’ blown tire in Turn 4 one lap earlier. Gordon, who took two tires and left pit road with the lead, spun his tires on the decisive restart on Lap 377, allowing Newman to surge into the top spot.
After two circuits under green at the flat one-mile track, Newman crossed the finish line .130 seconds ahead of Gordon to win his 14th NASCAR Sprint Cup race and his first since the 2008 Daytona 500—a 77-race drought.
Johnson charged from seventh to third during the green-white-checkered-flag finish. Mark Martin, also on two tires for the final restart, ran fourth, one position ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya. Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano completed the top 10.
Johnson extended his lead in the series standings to 36 points over Kenseth in second and to 96 over third-place Greg Biffle, who finished 22nd Saturday.
“I’ve got to throw Gibson under the bus—he wanted to go four, and I said, ‘Just give me two,’ Newman said. “I liked the track position. I’d rather block than have to boot. I was in a good position there, obviously.
“I had restarted on the bottom side earlier tonight and could not get going. On two tires, I was kind of impressed—but there were a lot of cars behind us with two tires. It was a good situation to be in. It was just the right time, right place.”
Busch and Johnson had dominated the two long green-flag runs that preceded the two-lap dash to the finish. In fact, Busch, who tied Johnson for most laps led with 113, stayed out front from the time he passed Johnson on Lap 262 until Riggs’ accident 110 laps later.
“I can’t freaking believe this,” Busch lamented on the radio to crew chief Dave Rogers when the ninth and final yellow flag flew. “What do you want to do?”
Busch and Rogers opted for four tires. Johnson made the same call for his No. 48 team.
“I was excited to see the caution come out, because it was an opportunity to win,” Johnson said. “I decided—I made the call for four tires. It’s the first time that I can remember in a long time that I actually said what I wanted for a pit stop, with the way Martinsville played out and Bristol and last night’s (Nationwide) race (where four-tire calls proved successful). I knew with the green-white checkered there weren’t a lot of laps, but I felt we might get a caution with everybody racing so hard.
“So I made the call for four and made the most of it. We got from seventh to third and just did what we could. So, not a bad night at all. Excited to see us stretch out the points a little bit and get another top-five finish here.”
Racing for the first time since March 31 surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, Denny Hamlin completed the race in 30th place, two laps down.
Asked after the race if he was in pain, Hamlin replied, “More than I can tell you. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do any damage or anything like that, but I’m absolutely exhausted right now.”
Hamlin had Casey Mears standing by as a relief driver, but opted not to use him.
“I got a lot of encouragement from the team,” said Hamlin, who fell three spots to 18th in the standings. “Through thick and thin, we’re a team. I feel like they’d give their left leg for me and do everything they could do to make sure we were successful, and I felt like it was my duty and my job and that’s what I’m hired to do, is to try to do the best I can and keep this team as good as we can.”
Notes: Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 12th and held on to 10th in the Cup standings. … A one-lap penalty for pitting outside his box dropped Jeff Burton to 25th at the finish. … Polesitter AJ Allmendinger came home 15th. … Kyle Busch, Logano and Edwards supplanted Paul Menard (29th Saturday), Kurt Busch (35th) and Brian Vickers (37th) in the top 12. … Newman improved six positions to 16th in points.