Newman crew chief McCauley shares big part in emotional win

Ryan Newman, center, and crew chief Roy McCauley, right, have gotten on the winning track in a hurry. Icon SMI

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Roy McCauley, carrying a trophy almost as tall as his 5-foot-4 frame, walked up and down the fence that separates the Sprint Cup garage from the rest of the Daytona International Speedway infield Sunday night.

First gate, locked.

Second gate, locked.

"Unfreaking unbelievable," the crew chief for Ryan Newman said. "You win the Daytona 500 and then get locked out of the garage. Hey, Brad, can you help me here?"

The NASCAR official heard McCauley's plea, walked to a 4-foot-high section of fence and offered to help him over with a chair. McCauley declined the chair, handing the official his trophy, then thrusting his 250-pound body over the top.

He probably could have leaped the 8-foot section the way he was feeling after helping his driver win the 50th running of the Great American Race.

"This is so surreal," McCauley said.

As happy as owner Roger Penske was at winning his first 500 after almost 30 years of trying, as happy as Newman was at ending his 81-race losing streak with what he called one of the "most awesome things that's ever happened to me," nobody was more thrilled than McCauley.

Or more emotional.

McCauley stepped aside as the crew chief for Kurt Busch, who gave Newman the push to the lead on the final lap, midway through last season to help care for his wife, who was diagnosed with leukemia exactly a year ago Sunday.

There were times when he wondered whether he would be back at the track, much less standing in Victory Lane at Daytona. He didn't agree to return to work with Newman until Amy went into remission, and then only with her permission.

In his own words, he has gone from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs.

"You know, when we sat down and talked at the end of last fall, they asked if I would be willing to take over the 12 car," McCauley said, referring to Newman's car. "[My wife and I] had to have a serious talk and say, 'OK, we're going to beat this, and we are beating this, and we're not going to let cancer dictate the rest of our lives.'"

So McCauley agreed to come back, dedicating himself to getting Newman and Penske in Victory Lane. His only problem once Newman got there was getting high enough on his toes to give his driver a hug through the window.

"I give my wife a lot of credit," McCauley said. "She's kind of my rock with wings, if you want to call it that. It means a lot to me to come back and stand in Victory Lane with Ryan because the last time I was his crew chief we stood in Victory Lane [in the Nationwide Series]."

McCauley was referring to the 2005 season, in which Newman won six of the nine Nationwide races he entered, including the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"It's just an emotional roller coaster, and it's nice to be on the top of it right now," McCauley said.

Nobody was happier for McCauley than Newman. The two share similar backgrounds, each growing up with a father who owned an auto repair shop and graduating from college with an engineering degree.

Both also have stocky builds that make them look like a pair of bulldogs as they wade through the garage.

"Roy's situation was as tough as anybody could probably go through," Newman said. "My wife is very close with Amy. They did a lot of things together when we did our foundation effort with the animals. She actually owned the marketing company.

"We stayed in very close contact with Amy and Roy through that ordeal. Happy to say that Amy is on the mend."

McCauley had to wait nearly an hour to talk to his wife after the race. The phone call was emotional for both.

"Helping my wife through cancer, that's the only thing that means more than this," he said. "It's not over yet. It's a process, which means family first and everything else after that. I don't want to take away from the Daytona 500, but family's still first."

I've wanted to win the Daytona 500 since I was a little kid. To me, it's a culmination of 38 years thinking about it.

-- Roy McCauley

No, McCauley's roller-coaster ride is not over. He knows his wife's condition could turn at any moment, so he's not taking anything for granted, just as he never took Sunday's win for granted with the Toyotas of Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch dominating throughout.

It's still hard for him to believe he won the Daytona 500 only a few months after he first returned to the garage in September to help Sam Hornish Jr. make the jump from the IndyCar Series to NASCAR.

"I couldn't think that many days ahead," McCauley said. "You've just got to take one day at a time."

McCauley, now on the right side of the fence, looked at the trophy back in his hand. It was heavy, but he wasn't willing to let anybody help carry it.

"The Daytona 500, like I told the boys [Sunday morning], it's the biggest marble and we'd like to put it in our pockets," he said. "I've wanted to win the Daytona 500 since I was a little kid. To me, it's a culmination of 38 years thinking about it."

He can't wait to share the moment and the trophy in person with his wife before having to leave again Thursday for California.

"I just can't wait to get home," McCauley said. "I've been down here for 14 days. It's all still very surreal. It hasn't sunk in yet. It will at some point."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.