RICHMOND, Va. — The race to get into the Chase for the Sprint Cup had little drama at Richmond.
It had insults. Just not much drama.
The underdog Jeremy Mayfield‘s win-and-in story never developed. The drivers who couldn’t have problems had nagging but simple issues rather than full-fledged disasters. The drivers who needed to have great days and good luck had mediocre days and horrible luck, at best.
Ryan Newman had about as bad a week as a driver could get. Saddled with a 15-point penalty earlier in the week, Newman knew early in Saturday’s race that he probably wasn’t going to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup field. Not with the way his car was driving. Not with the somewhat insignificant wholesale changes to the car the Richard Childress Racing team made throughout the race.
He had gotten into the top 10 though before tangling with Tony Stewart.
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Newman rips Stewart after late wreck at Richmond
Ryan Newman had harsh words for former boss Tony Stewart following a crash with 37 laps to go in Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond. “We all know he’s got issues,” Newman said.
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And then it was on. Outside the infield medical center, Newman ripped into Stewart, whom he felt (correctly) had cut across his nose on purpose.
“Him just being bipolar and having anger issues,” Newman described as the cause of the wreck.
Stewart didn’t get too spicy in his responses. The last thing he needs is a war of words with a driver that at least used to be one of his good friends.
This is Stewart’s last Chase as the sun is about to set on his Cup career. He doesn’t need to throw wood on the fire with Newman to distract him from his last chance to win a championship.
Unfortunately for Stewart, the who’s in, who’s out story couldn’t overshadow the Newman words.
With 40 laps to go, Newman had cut that deficit in half to 17, but he was in the top 10. So he wasn’t going to make up much more ground, and Jamie McMurray — the driver he needed to catch — was on pace to maintain his spot or at least not lose many. One position on the track is worth one point in NASCAR.
Then came the wreck. And all that was left were the words. The drama was pretty much over.
Oh, Kasey Kahne had a desperation shot on the green-white-checkered finish as he restarted fourth. But on old tires, he wasn’t going to beat the much stronger Toyotas on the front row.
That didn’t keep McMurray from feeling nervous. He would have been out if Kahne had pulled off the upset.
“I was totally worried about him,” McMurray said. “Heading into the last restart, we had fresh tires and I was like, ‘There is nothing I can do about Kasey Kahne right now. I’m going to go out and just do the best I can, and if it works out, it works out.'”
It worked out just fine. In the end, Newman finished 43 points off the cut — maybe making it a little easier for him to stomach the 25 points in penalties during the year. Chase Elliott, who at one point had to pit for a cut tire, ended up with a 48-point cushion, and Austin Dillon was 46 points to the good.
“[We’re] very lucky our tire cut down when it did, was able to get up against the wall and kind of get slowed down before I had a big hit,” Elliott said. “That was just luck, I guess, and how that worked out. … We’ll take it.”
Buescher finished with a 21-point cushion on 30th even with having contact on a restart that resulted in a cut tire and a green-flag pit stop that at one point put him two laps down.
“We wouldn’t want it to be easy,” Buescher said. “That definitely was a stressful day. … It is just a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.
“I tried not to get too caught up into that early on. It wasn’t until that last 50 or 60 laps wanting a little more information.”
Newman never had to ask for information even before his accident. With his chances to make the Chase dim, being mired between 11th and 20th and then have a speeding penalty, he knew he needed the others to have trouble.
The funny thing about racing, though, is things can turn thanks to another driver’s mistake or a broken part.
Newman didn’t have the funny thing happen. He had the racing thing, and he tangled with a driver that he knows drives by a certain code.
“How many times does he get to run into you before you say, ‘You’ve had enough?’ ” Stewart said.
Stewart didn’t have any qualms telling it the way he saw it. He fully admitted he cut into Newman, because if Newman was going to keep running into him, he wasn’t going to get away with it.
“I remember when he has had a lot of stuff on the line and he gets the give and take, but he has never been really one to give back much,” Newman said.
Stewart won’t be giving back much. He will be among 16 drivers doing a heck of a lot more taking than giving over the next 10 weeks.
That could create tension. Make that, it should create tension.
It should, hopefully, make the Chase better than its regular-season finale. The biggest names — except for the concussed Dale Earnhardt Jr. — in the sport are all in the Chase.
Those drivers will have to put regular-season issues behind them. Stewart said there is no feud with Newman, that in his eyes, it was over.
He is right. It’s time for a new season. Let the drama begin. Because NASCAR fans are probably starving for it after Saturday night at Richmond.