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Fresh generation of drivers emerging on NASCAR circuit

By BOB BAUM
March 19, 2017 at 11:49 p.m.

Ryan Newman celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday in Avondale, Ariz.

AVONDALE, Ariz. — A big gamble in the desert heat ended a long victory drought for Ryan Newman.

When just about everybody else decided to take a tire-changing pit stop in the final few laps on Sunday, Newman figured he'd be going in with them.

His crew chief Luke Lambert thought otherwise.

It was a decision that earned Newman a victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, ending his 127-race winless streak.

"Just a heck of a gutsy call by Luke Lambert," Newman said. "It's his first win as a crew chief in the cup series and I think making a gutsy call like that makes it that much more special for him."

While the leaders were in the pits, Newman moved from seventh to first and for the final two laps held off Kyle Larson, the second-place finisher for the third straight race.

Kyle Busch, the leader for nearly all of the final stage of the race, was third on a day when the temperature soared to 97 degrees at Phoenix International Raceway.

Like nearly all the rest of the field, Larson and Busch went to the pits on the late caution caused when Joey Logano's car blew a right tire and slammed into the wall six laps from the finish.

Newman won his 18th Cup race but his first since the 2013 Brickyard 400. He gave Chevrolet its first victory of the season and ended a 112-race losing streak for Richard Childress Racing.

"I can't say enough about what it means," Newman said.

When the caution ended, two laps separated him from the win.

"You're on old tires. It's really easy to screw it up," Newman said. "You've got to get your tires cleaned off right, you've to get a good launch, you've got to run through the gear box right, and then you've got to hold everybody off."

Larson, with two new tires on his Chevrolet, came out of the late pit stop with two new tires ahead of Busch's Toyota and had the best chance to catch Newman.

"I thought he was going to be all over me," Newman said. "I don't think he could get going as good as he wanted to."

Larson blamed his failure to quite get that victory three races in a row on "little mistakes or inexperience or whatever you want to call it"

Once again, Logano's misfortune foiled Busch, who was leading up until that tire blew.

Last week Logano's car knocked Busch's into the wall on the final stretch in Las Vegas. That led Busch to storm down pit row and throw a punch at Logano, creating a scuffle with the crews and a meeting for the drivers with NASCAR officials on Friday.

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