INDIANAPOLIS — A born and bred Hoosier, Ryan Newman spent his childhood racing everywhere from Anderson to Winchester and every short track he could find in a state mad about racing.
He graduated from Purdue and landed a summer job working in Jeff Gordon’s old race shop in Pittsboro. One of the perks? He got to live in the shop and sleep alongside the cars.
And like many Indiana kids, he revered Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the track he first visited in 1986 and later accidentally stumbled upon NASCAR’s inaugural 1992 test while out buying tires with his mother.
A win at the famed Brickyard? That would be a dream come true for the South Bend native.
Newman made the boyhood dream a cool reality, taking the checkered flag Sunday to end a 49-race winless streak in front of his home state fans. His parents, who fueled his love of racing and took him to the 500 as a kid, joined him for his biggest win in Indiana.
Newman was as cool and collected in Victory Lane as he was on the track when he held off Jimmie Johnson. There were no tears, no quiver in his voice and no need to collect himself as Newman was strangely stoic.
“I don’t show a lot of emotion, I think everybody knows that,” said Newman, who likened the victory to his 2008 win at the Daytona 500. “I had the same emotion, the same thankfulness I did when I won the Daytona 500 because I feel everybody that has been a part of my racing career — from people that bought my racing uniform, bought me a right rear tire, given us a credit card to get to some race track at some point in my career — those are the people that helped me get to where I am today.
“To me, it’s awesome to be here at Indy. It’s awesome because it’s my home state. I’ve raced go karts at pretty much every go kart track around here, been kicked out of half of them. Those are the things that make it special. I think about those things more than I carry the emotion on my cheeks.”
So the emotion was seen in father Greg, who spotted for Newman on Sunday, and his mother, Diane.
Newman kept it together during his celebratory burnout and the drive to Victory Lane, a hallowed area that he twice had to ask his crew over the radio for directions how to get there. He took the customary ride in a convertible around the track with his wife and two young daughters, and happily bowed again and again to kiss the Yard of Bricks.
Sure, he smiled, and shared some tender hugs with one of his daughters. But that was the most anyone was getting out of Newman, who had admitted to getting emotional after winning the pole on Saturday but seemed almost numb following Sunday’s win.
“I’m not sure (how I feel) at this point. I know it’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “I was more emotional yesterday after winning the pole than I was two laps after doing my donuts and everything else today. I’m not sure why. I took an emotional hit yesterday. Just an awesome day.”
Newman beat Johnson twice on this Brickyard weekend, first when he set a NASCAR track record in knocking Johnson off the pole in qualifying, then Sunday with a fast final pit stop to snatch the win from the four-time Indianapolis winner.
The two were the class of the field — they combined to lead 118 of the 160 laps — but it was Johnson who dominated the race and appeared to be just a bit better. But Johnson pitted from the lead with 27 laps remaining and it was a slow final stop for the Hendrick Motorsports crew.
Newman pitted after that and took only two tires to move into the lead after the green-flag stops cycled through the field. The closest Johnson would get to him again was when he paid a congratulatory visit to Newman in Victory Lane.
The victory comes as Newman is looking for a job.
Stewart-Haas Racing has signed Kevin Harvick to join the team next season, and team co-owner Tony Stewart informed Newman two weeks ago he won’t be brought back in 2014. It didn’t change the post-race mood, as Stewart hustled to Victory Lane, lifted Newman from behind and the two shared a long embrace.
“He just had an awesome weekend,” Stewart said. “I kept looking up the board and watching, and I was scared to ask where he was at and how big of a lead he had. I didn’t want to jinx him. Just really proud of him — he’s a great teammate and an even better friend.”
Johnson, the Sprint Cup Series points leader who was hoping to tie Formula One’s Michael Schumacher as the only five-time winners in Indy history, finished 2.657 seconds behind Newman in second.
“There’s definitely disappointment there, but that’s racing. It happens,” Johnson said. “We win as a team, lose as a team. There’s been some late race mistakes on my behalf that have taken race wins away from us. Granted, not a major event like this. We still ended up second.
“We have a lot to be proud of over the course of the weekend. We’ll do the best to let it roll off our shoulders by tomorrow afternoon.”
Kasey Kahne, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, was third and Stewart was fourth as Chevrolet swept the top four spots. All four cars were also powered by Hendrick Motorsports.
“We had pretty good power all day long. There were a lot of scenarios where I noticed how good it was,” Stewart said. “That’s what you expect out of the Hendrick engine department. That’s the standard that they set.”
Matt Kenseth was fifth in a Toyota and followed by Hendrick’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon, as all four Hendrick entries landed inside the top seven. Earnhardt rallied from a loose wheel on the opening run of the race to grab his top-10 finish.
“I knew it was loose,” said Earnhardt, adding it was a no-brainer to pit. “You have a wheel falling off, you have something serious happening. Come in, it’s dangerous staying out there. You can hit the wall, or wreck something, or wreck some other people. I don’t want to do that. It is a long race. We had an early chance to fix that, and that is fine. It gave us an opportunity to try some different strategies, and it worked out for us.”
Joey Logano was eighth in a Ford, and followed by Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch, who picked up his first career win at the Brickyard in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.