The finish, which occurred in Newman’s 516th series start, was his first of the season. He hadn’t finished last in Sprint Cup since October 5, 2008 - 263 races ago - when his #12 Alltel / Samsung HDTV Dodge for Penske Racing lost an engine after 48 laps of the AMP Energy 500 at Talladega. Newman’s Richard Childress Racing entry is also first of the RTA’s chartered 36 to finish last in 2016.
A 17-time race winner who two years ago finished a close 2nd to Kevin Harvick for the Sprint Cup Championship, Newman began the 2016 season with a frustrating SpeedWeeks. A late-race crash in the Sprint Unlimited left him 19th in a field of 25, his Daytona 500 car was damaged in a practice wreck four days later, and an engine failure in Can-Am Duel #2 left him last in the race, 38th on the grid for the season opener. Newman then recovered where it mattered most, finishing 11th in the 500, qualifying 4th at Atlanta, and placing 13th at Las Vegas. He came into Phoenix - site of his Cup debut in 2000 - 17th in the point standings, and looked to put on a good run for Grainger in its first 2016 appearance as the #31’s sponsor.
Newman put up the 19th-fastest time in Friday’s opening practice and missed the cut for the pole in qualifying, settling for 20th with a speed of 136.576 mph. He ran 28th in Saturday’s first practice session, then 18th in Happy Hour.
Starting 39th in NASCAR’s third-consecutive short field was XFINITY Series regular Joey Gase, set to make his first Cup start of the season. He again returned to the #32 Ford fielded by Go Green Racing, which this time didn’t have a sponsor when the team prepped it at Las Vegas. By qualifying, the Donate Life America program, Gase’s XFINITY sponsor at Jimmy Means Racing, had signed on, followed soon by fellow Means sponsor JT Concrete, Inc. and LifeCell. During the pace laps, Gase was joined by three drivers sent to the rear: Kasey Kahne, who lost an engine on his #5 Great Clips Chevrolet, Michael Annett, sent to a backup #46 Pilot Chevrolet following a practice crash, and four-time Phoenix winner Jimmie Johnson, whose #48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet was totaled in qualifying when the steering wheel came off.
By the end of Lap 1, Gase had reassumed the 39th spot and held it until Lap 3, when Gase passed Atlanta last-placer Josh Wise and his #30 Key Realty Group Chevrolet. On Lap 9, Clint Bowyer made an unscheduled green-flag stop for a loose wheel on his #15 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet and was the first to lose a lap, going down two by the time he rejoined the race. Bowyer was still trailing the field when trouble found Ryan Newman on the 52nd circuit. Newman, in 27th and racing Trevor Bayne for the Lucky Dog, lost a right-front tire heading into Turn 3 and slammed the outside wall. The wreck brought out the first yellow of the afternoon, and the #31 was towed behind the wall. The crew attempted repairs, but by Lap 150, the FOX Sports leaderboard indicated he was out of the event.
Finishing 38th on Sunday was Newman’s teammate Paul Menard, whose #27 Richmond / Menards Chevrolet wrecked in nearly the same spot and from the same cause, drawing the second yellow on Lap 107. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. clobbered the Turn 1 wall even harder on Lap 164, his #17 Fastenal Ford shortened in the right-front and barely able to return to the pits. 36th went to Cole Whitt, his first DNF of the season, when his lapped #98 Rinnai Tankless Water Heaters Chevrolet overheated in the final laps. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Casey Mears, his #13 GEICO Chevrolet fighting electrical gremlins on Lap 132 that sent him behind the wall for more than 40 laps before he returned to the track.
*This is Newman’s second last-place finish in a Cup race at Phoenix. On April 12, 2008, Newman’s #12 Alltel Dodge started on pole for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 and led 37 of the first 49 laps before a fiery engine failure ended his night after 134 circuits.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #31 in a Cup race at Phoenix.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #31-Ryan Newman / 51 laps / crash
38) #27-Paul Menard / 104 laps / crash
37) #17-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / 161 laps / crash
36) #98-Cole Whitt / 236 laps / overheating
35) #13-Casey Mears / 268 laps / running
2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Newman, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)
2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) BK Racing, Premium Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, The Motorsports Group (1)
2016 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Toyota (1)