Less than a week after announcing a multi-year extension with Richard Childress Racing, Grainger was celebrating in Victory Lane at Phoenix Raceway with Ryan Newman and the No. 31 Chevrolet SS team.
Making a bold call on the final caution of the day, crew chief Luke Lambert ordered Newman to keep the No. 31 Grainger Chevrolet on the track when the majority of the leaders headed for pit road ahead of the green-white-checkered restart.
When the green flag flew in overtime, Newman held off a hard charge from Kyle Larson and kept the car out front to earn his first win as a Richard Childress Racing driver.
“I’ve got to thank Grainger, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, Monster Energy, for supporting our series, and Chevrolet,” a relieved Newman said in Victory Lane. “The list goes on and on. What a gutsy call by Luke. I called for two tires and he called for none. I’ve won more races no tires than I have with four. I’m just proud of these guys. We had a good car all day. We kept it out of trouble and collected in the end.”
Lambert knew the decision to stay on the track was the right call, despite his driver asking for two tires while riding around under caution. That call ultimately led the No. 31 Grainger team to Victory Lane, which also marked the first win for Lambert as a crew chief at the Cup level.
“I felt in my gut it was the right decision,” said Lambert. “We have a lot of people working during the race at our company that provide a lot of really good, valuable information for me to see real‑time. I had a lot of good information in front of me that I was able to draw to right quick, make a snap decision.
“I felt confident it was the best call for us,” he said. “I’m not going to say when I made the decision I was confident we were going to win the race. It was the only opportunity we had to win the race. I felt like doing it was going to yield a better result than the other option. Ultimately that was the decision. I told him. He said he could make the car wide. He did. I couldn’t be prouder of him for rising to the occasion.”
Newman led only six laps during the 314-lap event at Phoenix Raceway, but they were the most important of the day.
— RCR Cup Teams (@RCRCup) March 19, 2017
Taking the checkered flag, Newman earned his first victory in 128 races and locked himself into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. With that spot in the playoffs now locked in, Lambert believes the team can now get more aggressive with their set-ups and calls moving forward.
“I think it goes without saying it puts us in a position to be a little bit more aggressive,” he said. “It’s given us the opportunity now to have that type of confidence will allow us to try some new things, go into Fontana next week with the opportunity to be a little more aggressive and, you know, race with that level of confidence. It means a lot. Ultimately I don’t know that it will change everything that we do, but I’m sure it will give us an opportunity to do some things we couldn’t do in the past.”
Newman’s victory was celebrated by his RCR teammates on social media, as they offered up their congratulations on Twitter.
Awesome to see teammate @RyanJNewman take home the today. Good job bud
— Brandon Jones (@BrandonJonesRac) March 19, 2017
— Austin Dillon (@austindillon3) March 19, 2017
— Daniel Hemric (@DanielHemric) March 19, 2017
— Slugger Labbe (@SluggerLabbe) March 20, 2017
Awesome win for RCR, ECR and the 31 team!! Gutsy call by Luke and a great finish by Ryan! Everyone has worked so hard and God answered today
— Eric Warren (@ericswarren) March 20, 2017
— Luke Lambert (@LukeLambertCC) March 20, 2017
— Ryan Newman (@RyanJNewman) March 20, 2017