Ryan Newman revealed “the push from heaven” was key to his thrilling victory in the 50th Daytona 500 on Sunday night.
Newman’s Dodge got the race-winning push from Penske Racing team-mate Kurt Busch to give team owner Roger Penske his first-ever win in the Daytona 500.
Penske, winner of a record 14 Indianapolis 500s, got to experience a trip to victory lane in NASCAR’s biggest race.
“I don’t have the words, it’s probably the most awesome thing that ever happened to me,” Newman said after the biggest victory of his career.
“At the driver’s meeting to be looking face-to-face with all the greats that have won this race and now to be part of that team is awesome.
“To win the 50th Daytona 500 is great.”
Newman was fourth when the race restarted with four laps to go. He attached his car to the back of Tony Stewart’s Toyota to push his way through traffic.
But when team-mate Busch gave Newman a big push on the final lap, they were able to both get past Stewart down the backstretch heading to the chequered flag.
“The leader was a sitting duck on the restart,” Newman said of Jeff Burton’s Chevrolet. “I didn’t think the 31 (Burton) had the greatest car all day.
“When I pushed Tony through turns one and two I was pushing him as hard as I could.
“Then Kurt came up from behind me and gave me the push from heaven.”
The victory was the 13th of Newman’s career, but his first since September 18, 2005, ending an 81-race winless streak.
The result was also hugely emotional for Penske, who prior to Sunday had never quite been able to live up to the high standards of his IndyCar team when racing in the NASCAR series.
“I’ve been here almost 30 years trying to get in victory circle,” Penske said.
“To achieve this with this competition, with Ryan Newman, a student of the sport, and (crew chief) Roy McCauley and the whole team, this is just unbelievable.”
Penske Racing had set the standard in IndyCar racing, especially at its biggest event, the Indianapolis 500.
While NASCAR believes the Daytona 500 is the biggest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500 is steeped in history and lore and known worldwide as a great sporting event.
But even Penske had to admit this victory was special.
At Indy, a Penske Racing car is expected to win the 500. In NASCAR, a Penske win in the Daytona 500 was completely unexpected.
“Comparing it to the Indy 500, as Ryan knows, we’re open-wheel guys,” Penske said. “Coming down here has been tough. This has got to go to the top of the charts here.”
Penske also takes pride in the fact this was a team effort. Newman would not have claimed the Daytona 500 win without Busch’s push on the final lap.
And with Sam Hornish finishing an impressive 15th, Penske’s three-car team is building toward future success.
“We started this season with all three drivers, all three crew chiefs and the engineering folks together and said, ’look, we got to make this one effort’,” Penske recalled.
“When Kurt stepped back, we moved the points to Sam and there was obviously a lot of discussion about that.
“But I think Kurt and Ryan are different. They do different things Monday through Friday. I can tell you at the race track, the three drivers get together after every practice and it’s made a huge difference.
“If you can’t win yourself, you want your team-mate to win. I’ve always said we win as a team and we lose as a team.”
And on Sunday night, they celebrated as a team, and that made this victory so worthwhile to an owner who demands results and expects success.
“I think Ryan will say the relationship with Kurt has made a big difference for him,” Penske said.
“He really wants that, too. Kurt came down to the winner’s circle crying when he saw that Ryan won, because he knows how much it meant.
“And the fact that he could make a difference in that victory I think is special to him and special to Ryan.”