Newman fails to get win, succeeds at affecting the Chase

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Ryan Newman had a chance to win Sunday at Martinsville Speedway on the final restart with eventual winner Jimmie Johnson squarely in his sights.

That opportunity was taken away when the green-white-checkered finish dissolved in a final caution that ended the race under a yellow flag.

Newman had a chance to win last week at Lowe's Motor Speedway after a brilliant pass put him past Jeff Gordon and into the lead, only to lose control of his car in Turn 2 and hand the victory to Gordon.

Two races, two very different ways to lose for a driver who missed the Chase this season. It has been 77 races since Newman last visited Victory Lane, a stretch dating back to the September New Hampshire race in 2005. Although it appears he's getting close, Newman said he knows he had a great chance Sunday.

"I know I would have had a shot at [Johnson]," he said. "I had my nose at his left-rear tire at the start/finish line getting the white flag.

"It's over. I would have liked to have said that, 'Yeah, I could have passed him on the inside.' He went into Turn 3 and drifted up and overbraked and got loose and drifted up [more] and gave me an opportunity. I didn't think that was going to happen. He was really strong. … But it just never happened."

NASCAR rules call for the green-white-checkered finish when a late caution occurs before the final lap but close enough to the end that the race would otherwise finish under a caution. The rules call for one shot at it, and when David Ragan spun after the final restart Sunday, Johnson was the winner.

Newman said he didn't feel as though he had a top car until he drove his way there. He took the No. 12 to the second position past Gordon with nine laps to go after he got in the rear of Gordon, something that raised the specter of a non-Chase driver having a detrimental effect on the Chase. But Gordon -- who saw his points lead trimmed to 53 -- maintained his composure.

Gordon even had a bit of a laugh with Newman when Gordon entered the media center, playfully lunging at Newman in mock anger.

"I wasn't very good on short runs there, and I just couldn't get down into the corners; and Ryan looked like he was pretty good there on the shorter runs," Gordon said. "I kind of held him up. He got me up the racetrack and then I gave him room and we slammed pretty good there.

"I wasn't real happy about it, but it's no big deal. He didn't mean to do that and he understands why we were upset, and that's all good."

For his part, Newman said he wasn't treating anyone any differently, whether the other driver is in the Chase or not.

"That doesn't matter to me," he said. "In my opinion, I'm a championship driver and just because I had some bad luck this year doesn't mean I should change the way I race for guys that are going for the Cup.

For Newman and Penske Racing, it has been a season of disappointment and almosts. And it won't be a championship year, either.

Newman continues to earn poles at an amazing clip, adding five so far this season to boost his total to 42 in only 219 races. Teammate Kurt Busch made the Chase but had a carburetor failure in the first Chase race at New Hampshire and isn't a realistic contender for the title at 420 points out with four races to go.

Still, Newman had to admit that Sunday was a positive step.

"It was a good run …," he said. "We weren't a very good car yesterday in practice at any point. We made some changes that worked, and the guys did a good job.

"In hindsight, still wish we had the last lap on the outside of the 48."

Although Newman's run fell short again, he did accomplish something any non-Chase driver would hope for short of a win; he had an effect on the Chase by slipping in front of Gordon late, tightening what has become essentially a two-man race for the title by 10 more points as the Nextel Cup Series heads to Atlanta.

K. Lee Davis is a motorsports editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at kevin.davis@espn3.com