Roger Penske first fielded a race car in the Daytona 500 for Dave Marcis in 1973, a year after the future billionaire and business and motorsports innovator won the Indianapolis 500 the first of a record 14 times as car owner.
Ryan Newman first watched the Daytona 500 as a child sitting in the Seagrave Tower with his father, Greg, as a middle school kid in the early 1990s.
The Indiana son and the man who made his sporting legend there have struggled to conjure fond memories at this place since. Newman's often involve tumbling down the racetrack, his car shredding beneath him. For Penske, success in the slick open-wheel ranks had never translated to its country cousin. No championships. No wins in the biggest race.
Sunday, better memories were made. With his father spotting from high above the speedway and Penske
watching the long-term plan finally deliver, Newman used a push from teammate Kurt Busch to win a 50th Daytona 500 that was all about team. Just not the one expected.
"Don't have the words," Newman said. "It's awesome."
Busch was second, with Tony Stewart third, followed by Kyle Busch and Reed Sorenson. In a Speedweeks where Hendrick Motorsports (namely Dale Earnhardt Jr.) dominated and the second-year Toyota program appeared ready to win at NASCAR's highest level, once-woeful Dodge dominated. Six of the top eight finishers drove them, including the winner.
There was something for everyone in the finish, as long as they'd given something to the Penske cause. Newman ended an 81-race winless streak and Kurt Busch, a former series champion who has struggled for acceptance and a role since before coming to Penske two years ago, was cast forever as the dutiful teammate.
And though Penske defends the sanctity of Indianapolis, a man who has made a living out of mergers and acquisitions had to admit this felt pretty good considering the wait.
"Coming down here has been tough," he said. "This has got to go to the top of the chart here."
And for an organization that expects precision, Newman's winning move was textbook.
"Masterful," said crew chief Roy McCauley, who a year ago Sunday learned his wife had leukemia, prompting him to leave the team as she recovered.
Kurt Busch was making a move along the wall in Turn1 on the 200th and final lap to overtake leader Tony Stewart when Newman blocked him. So Busch nuzzled his No.2 Dodge in behind Newman's No.12 and floored it, forming an unstoppable Penske steamroller on the backstretch that pushed Newman to a 0.092-second win, Penske's first in a restrictor-plate race.
"To have Newman jump up in front of me, I thought that was the most beautiful thing in the world because I knew one of us Penske cars was going to win at that point," said Busch, a runnerup for the third time in eight Daytona 500s.
Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 86 laps, possibly cost both him and Stewart, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, their first chance for a Daytona 500 win and a coup for Toyota when he dashed below the yellow boundary line on a Lap198 restart, passing leader Jeff Burton. Busch self-policed, giving back the positions he gained, but lost the draft and left Stewart without a dance partner. Stewart dipped low and waited for Kyle Busch to join him. He couldn't.
"I don't know if I could have stopped them anyway if I had changed lanes," said Stewart, who called the third-place finish one of the most disappointing experiences of his life.
No one was getting in the way of this one.
Brant James can be reached at email@example.com.
Rounding out the top five
2nd Kurt Busch
3rd Tony Stewart
4th Kyle Busch
5th Reed Sorenson