Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman entered the day tied for the final playoff spot, which was ultimately decided by a late caution at Indianapolis — a caution that bit Suarez and propelled Newman into the postseason.
It was the second to last caution with 26 laps to go that caught Suarez a lap down as he had just made a green-flag pit stop. Fortunately, he immediately received the free pass but was stuck back in the pack around the 20th position.
The race’s final caution with 14 laps to go set up a nine-lap dash to the finish in which Suarez did all he could to gain the necessary positions as Newman was outrunning him. But Newman held on to grab an eighth-place finish while Suarez could only get to 11th.
“That was a struggle,” said Newman. “At the end of the first stage I had a lot of confidence, (but) at the end of the second stage, I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence. We just kept our nose to the grindstone. The 41 (Suarez) got himself in a pickle there and we were able to hold him off — that was part of the race.
“The other part of the race was we didn’t have a fast enough race car to be able to get up there and lead, and we need to be able to do that in the next three races.”
Newman finished fifth in Stage 1 but did not score points in Stage 2. It is the first time since 2017 that Newman has been in the postseason, and it marks a long-overdue return for the No. 6 Roush team which hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2006.
“I guess if you look at our roster there are more new people on our team together for the first time than all the other teams put together, and I’m proud that we were able to take that and use our collective experience — our knowledge from places we’ve been and things we have done — and turn that into a playoff position,” said Newman. “Now we just have to do something with it.”
Suarez bounced off the wall early in the day and had to make two pit stops under caution for his team to work on the fenders over the right front and right rear tires.
It was a mistake, admitted Suarez, as he didn’t anticipate getting aero loose behind William Byron.
“The car actually was pretty good after that, though,” Suarez said. “The guys were able to fix it. It was mostly cosmetic. I feel like after that the day went smooth other than getting caught in the pit road cycle on the last stop. That made us lose all our track position and it was very difficult to overcome that.
“We fought hard. We made it all the way back to 11th and I feel like if we had 15 more laps I was going to get the 6, But that is racing. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Suarez did not score points in Stage 1 and finished sixth in Stage 2. He still has not made the postseason in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
“A little disappointed,” Suarez said. “I feel like our team has been okay this year and we deserved to be in there. It is what it is. We have made some mistakes this year. We just weren’t good enough this weekend. Qualifying was wide open and we qualified 20th. We just didn’t have the straightaway speed this weekend for whatever reason. We have to keep working on it and try to keep getting better.”
The other playoff spot went to Suarez’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, Clint Bowyer. He entered the day with an eight-point advantage on the cutline and, as all the drama swirled around the Suarez/Newman battle, Bowyer did just enough to protect his position.
“Well, winning would be better. There is nothing better than winning,” said Bowyer. “Playoffs are obviously a good thing and you have to be in the playoffs to win a championship. I’m looking forward to some of those tracks. I look back at Richmond and I should have won that race. I should have done what I needed to do and moved him (Denny Hamlin) that day, gone on to win that race and drive off into the sunset. I didn’t and I still think about that.
“You can understand how important it is,” Bowyer continued. “I still think about that race and how easy the rest of our season would have been had I done that.
“That being said, we are going back to some of those tracks that are really good race tracks for us and they are good opportunities for a win.”