MARTINSVILLE, Va. - With all eyes on Hendrick Motor-
sports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and their domination of Martinsville Speedway, suddenly there was Ryan Newman yesterday, duking it out with both at the end.
In the midst of an uninspired season that finds him 14th in points and out of the Chase for the championship, Newman yielded nothing to Chase leader and four-time champion Gordon while trying to run down Johnson in the final laps.
He made no apologies for racing them hard with less at stake.
"That doesn't matter to me. I know I proved my worthiness and in my opinion, I'm a championship driver," Newman said after nudging his way past Gordon to finish second in the Subway 500.
"Just because we had some bad luck and bad situations this year doesn't mean I should change the way I race the guys that are going for the cup."
Newman became a player in the finish when his team gambled and changed only his right-side tires during its final pit stop with 158 laps to go. The strategy worked because the race was filled with cautions, but the yellows may also have hurt him.
"I know I would have had a shot at him," he said of Johnson. "I had my nose at his left rear tire at the start-finish line getting the white flag. It's over."
It was shortly thereafter, anyway, because rookie David Ragan spun in turns 1 and 2, causing NASCAR to abandon its attempt at a two-lap sprint to the checkered flag.
"I would have liked to have said, 'Yeah, I could have passed him on the inside,'•" Newman said. "He went into turn 3 and drifted up and over and braked and got loose and drifted up and gave me an opportunity. I didn't think that was going to happen."
But Johnson stayed in front, then was saved by the 21st yellow flag.
ROUGH AND TUMBLE: Johnson said drivers have figured out how to use the noses of the Car of Tomorrow to move competitors out of the way, and it showed yesterday.
The 21 caution flags were a race record and slowed the pace for 127 laps.
"It was very rough for me," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "I saw a lot of roughness. I was part of a lot of roughness. I was a cause of some of it. But my crew chief said I wasn't sticking out like a sore thumb, that I was not different than anyone else. These new cars are pretty tough."
Like most everyone, Earnhardt's car was battered at the end.
"You can drive right in there with these Impala SS cars. You don't even worry about it. You just drive right into the side of them if they make you mad," he said.
"I beat mine off the wall, off other cars, and it still drove great."
ONE-ARMED RUDD: Virginia native Ricky Rudd was questionable to drive at Martinsville because he's still recovering from a separated left shoulder.
But with plans to retire at season's end, Rudd made his final start at the track in his home state, and he'll probably be feeling his 27th-place finish for some time.
"I'm hurting pretty good," he said. "My right one is hurting about as much as my left one because my left one quit working so I had to use my right one a lot."
The start was also the last one at Martinsville for Dale Jarrett, who recently announced he'll likely run six races next year before retiring. He finished 30th.
PIT STOPS: It took pole-sitter and early race leader Jeff Gordon just over 27 laps to lap the first car. He passed Paul Menard on lap 28. ... Robby Gordon brought out the first caution when a cut tire sent him into the wall in turn 4. ... Seven of the 12 Chase for the championship drivers finished in the top 10. With four races remaining, all 12 Chase drivers are still mathematically in contention to win.
FINAL WORD: "I've never raced so hard to get nowhere in all my life." - Bill Elliott after starting 43rd and finishing 34th with a blown engine yesterday.