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Newman breaks out

After 13 top-five finishes in 27 events, rookie gets first Winston Cup win in rain-shortened race.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 16, 2002

LOUDON, N.H. -- Ryan Newman's determination and a convenient rainstorm made him a winner Sunday for the first time in his Winston Cup career.

Newman barely held off Kurt Busch to take the rain-shortened New Hampshire 300.

"This meant so much to me, but not just because I won," Newman said, alluding to the startup crew that has helped him as a rookie. "It was just awesome for the team.

"We've been looking forward to it all year, and it finally came in Loudon."

Sterling Marlin finished 21st and lost the points lead for the first time since the second race of the season. Mark Martin, who overcame a tire problem with 50 laps remaining, took it away with a finish of 16th, and leads Marlin by six points.

"I almost hit the wall," Martin said. "If I had, I wouldn't have the points lead."

But for the third incursion of the day, when rain assured his victory, Newman might have been talking about another second-place finish.

Lap after lap, Busch drew up to Newman's bumper, barely tapping him once.

But a caution for rain waved on Lap 199, ending the chase. After seven more laps, NASCAR ended the race.

"It was a great race," said Busch, another youthful charger beginning to have a major impact.

Newman might have been moved aside by Busch, whom he praised for his tactics.

"He just raced me clean, and I appreciate it," Newman said.

The win followed consecutive second-place finishes for the 24-year-old driver. It also further established him as one of the top drivers.

Newman has eight top-five finishes in his last 10 starts, and a series-leading 13 in 27 races. He had five second-place finishes before breaking through in his 35th career start.

It was the first points-paying victory for the former USAC open-wheel champion. In May, he won the Winston, NASCAR's all-star race.

Newman started on the pole for the fourth time this season and led three times for 143 laps on the 1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway.

The Purdue graduate with a degree in engineering became the 16th driver to win this season with nine races remaining. The record of 19 winners in a season was set last year.

It was the 42nd NASCAR victory for Roger Penske, the top owner in the history of Champ cars, whose drivers have won 12 Indianapolis 500s and 11 open-wheel titles. Matt Borland, like Newman in his first full season on the circuit, got his first win as a crew chief.

"This is really one for the book," said Don Miller, who heads Penske's stock car program. "We saw this coming. We knocked on the door and today we knocked it down."

Newman dominated early, but Johnny Benson caught him when the race resumed after a delay of nearly two hours. Benson started second, reached Newman on the 83rd lap and passed him five laps later.

But Benson tapped the lapped car of Mike Wallace on the 141st lap, and Newman and Busch got by him. At that point the race came down to a battle of Fords between Newman and Busch, separated only by more than a few car lengths as they worked their way through lapped traffic.

"Kurt is awesome," crew chief Jimmy Fennig said. "We came close. We were racing the rain but we'll get them next week."

But even Busch might not have won had the rain held off. Tony Stewart began a fierce charge toward the front in his Pontiac, making it a three-car battle.

"We were coming hard," Stewart said. "But we'll take it, the way this points battle is going."

He's fourth in the standings, 59 back in one of the closest races in NASCAR history.

Unlike two months ago, when an uncured sealer and spent rubber caused drivers to slip and slide through Turns 3 and 4 in the New England 300, the race was relatively clean. Rain that began moments before the scheduled start delayed the race by 58 minutes and washed away most of rubber laid down in practice and by two support events Saturday.

A stoppage came after 22 laps, and delayed the event for 1 hour, 48 minutes.

Benson's Pontiac wound up fourth in the $4.1-million event, followed by Bobby Labonte's Pontiac.

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