written by Larry Cothren

photos by Christopher Noble

Daytona Beach, Fla.--After all the hoopla and attention surrounding DaleEarnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports and Tony Stewart and Toyota, anda multitude of other possible storylines, how did Penske Racing factor into the 50th running of the Daytona 500?

Short answer: It didn't.

Roger Penske, despite his status as one of the foremost figures in American motorsports, had never visited victory lane at Daytona. His cars have been victorious in the Indianapolis 500 14 times, including a win in 2006, but Penske's name was absent from the list of winning car owners in NASCAR's marquee event. That changed Sunday night when Ryan Newman got a push from Penske teammate Kurt Busch in the closing laps to give Penske the crown jewel of stock car racing.

"It's all about Kurt Busch," Newman said from victory lane at DaytonaInternational Speedway. "He's an awesome teammate. I couldn't have doneit without him."

With him, however, Newman was able to erase years of Penske Racing beingno more than an afterthought at Daytona and Talladega, the two restrictor plate tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Despite employing some of the sport's top drivers over the past three decades and fielding a car full-time in Cup racing since 1991, Penske Racing had never found the combination for a restrictor-plate win.

To put that in perspective, with drivers Rusty Wallace and Bobby Allison, among others, Penske teams have won on short tracks, road courses and intermediate tracks. Although the organization earned just three wins by Busch over the past two seasons, Penske Racing had won 57 times in all or part of 25 seasons prior to Sunday.

Now, for a weekend at least, Penske Racing is on par with the sport's top teams, alongside the organizations of Joe Gibbs, Rick Hendrick, and Richard Childress, previous winners of this prestigious event and benchmarks for NASCAR success over the past two decades.

"I can tell you this, you need to win this race to get in that class, and we did that," said Penske. "Certainly our wins at Indy have been important to us. But there is no question when you run 35 or 36 races a year with the tight competition, the way the sport has been developed by the France family, it's tough."

Newman led just eight laps in taking the win. The closing laps were frantic and caution filled. Jeff Burton had the lead on a restart with two laps left. Then Tony Stewart, a pre-race favorite in his Gibbs Toyota, moved around Burton and into the lead on the last lap. Stewart, however, eventually chose a low line on the track, in front of Gibbs teammate Kyle Busch, hoping to pick up momentum that would carry him to the win.

"I just made the wrong decision on the backstretch," Stewart said of his last-lap move. "Tried to get down in front of Kyle, (and) thought I would get a push down there."

He also called the race "probably one of the most disappointing moments"of his career.

Meanwhile, with Stewart going low, Newman and Penske teammate Kurt Busch took the high line, and Busch helped push Newman and the No. 12 Dodge to the front.

"I saw a glimmer of hope that we might win this thing," said Busch of the closing laps. "Then (Newman) pulled in front of us. I said, hey, that's fine. I'm glad it's this blue car that pulled in front of me because it says Penske Racing on it. I was very emotional crossing the line finishing second, because I know we did something very special for the captain (Penske) today."

NOTEWORTHY

It was Newman's 13th win in Cup competition and it ended a winless streak that stretched to September 19, 2005, when he won at New Hampshire. The win was the first by Dodge since Ward Burton's win in 2002.

The race's 42 lead changes were the most in the Daytona 500 since 49 in the 2001 Daytona 500 and only the fifth race since 1972 with 40 or more lead changes. The 16 leaders in the race were the second most ever, with the 2006 Daytona 500 having 18 leaders.

The Hendrick Motorsports cars were non-factors in the closing laps. After his wins in the Bud Shootout and one of the Gatorade Duels, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished ninth, ahead of teammates Jimmie Johnson (27th), Casey Mears (35th) and Jeff Gordon (39th).

FINISHING ORDER THE 50th DAYTONA 500

1. Ryan Newman
2. Kurt Busch
3. Tony Stewart
4. Kyle Busch
5. Reed Sorenson
6. Elliott Sadler
7. Kasey Kahne
8. Robby Gordon
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. Greg Biffle
11. Bobby Labonte
12. Brian Vickers
13. Jeff Burton
14. Kevin Harvick
15. Sam Hornish Jr.
16. Dale Jarrett
17. Denny Hamlin
18. David Reutimann
19. Carl Edwards
20. Martin Truex Jr.
21. Scott Riggs
22. Paul Menard
23. Jeremy Mayfield
24. Clint Bowyer
25. J.J. Yeley
26. Jamie McMurray
27. Jimmie Johnson
28. David Gilliand
29. Michael Waltrip
30. Travis Kvapil
31. Mark Martin
32. Juan Pablo Montoya
33. Dario Franchitti
34. Kyle Petty
35. Casey Mears
36. Matt Kenseth
37. Regan Smith
38. Dave Blaney
39. Jeff Gordon
40. John Andretti
41. Joe Nemechek
42. David Ragan
43. Kenny Wallace