Newman and Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch worked in tandem on the final lap, passing Tony Stewart for an improbable victory that vindicated the racing career of one of the most-successful car owners in motorsports history.
After 14 wins at the Indianapolis 500, Penske finally got his first Daytona 500 victory. And in the process, he got the last -- and perhaps most important -- piece to a racing career that includes 12 open-wheel national championships.
"I tell you, you need this win to get into that (elite) class," Penske said. "This goes to the top of the charts for a victory at Penske Racing. Comparing it to the Indy 500, Ryan knows because we're Indy-car guys, this is tough. This has got to go to the top of the charts."
The same goes for Newman, who broke a winless streak that dated back to the 2005 season.
"This is the most awesome (thing) that's ever happened to me," Newman said after earning $1,506,045 in the No. 12 Alltel Dodge.
"I've always said Indianapolis was great to walk into that garage area and walk in the same footsteps as some of the greatest drivers in the world. To win this is unbelievable. This is going to take days for this to sink in."
Newman waited until the final two miles to make the biggest move of his racing career. Busch gave him all the support he needed in the stretch drive, giving Penske a one-two finish.
"Kurt could have easily gone three-wide and made a mess of everything. Thank him a bunch," Newman said. "Without Kurt Busch and Roger Penske, we couldn't have done this. Kurt gave me a push from heaven."
Stewart and Kyle Busch -- who finished fourth, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, combined to lead 102 of 200 laps.
"I feel like I drove the greatest race in my life, and we still came up short," Stewart said. "This is one of the most-disappointing moments in my racing career."
When Stewart moved low through the second turn, he thought he'd get a push from Kyle Busch, Kurt's younger brother. But Kyle was behind Kurt heading down the backstretch, and by the time he got to his teammate's rear bumper, Newman and Kurt Busch were gone.
"I made the wrong decision," Stewart said. "My intention was to get down in front of Kyle and pull him. You work all day to put yourself in position, and I did what I thought I needed to do ... The last lap just didn't work out."
There were only two cautions in the first 151 laps. But the final 49 laps were stop-and-go with five yellow flags.
Newman got to the front by skipping a chance for new tires during the last two cautions. He went 40 laps at the end without stopping.
Stewart's Toyota was ahead of Newman and Kurt Busch at the white flag, and he pulled away to a three car-length lead in the second turn. That's when Newman and Kurt Busch started working together, and they powered past Stewart heading into Turn 3. After that, they stayed nose-to-tail all the way to the finish line -- and into Daytona history.
Six of the top eight cars were Dodges. Before the race, Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli offered his group a $1 million bonus for a Daytona 500 win.
Penske already has the money spent.
"We're going to use it to make our cars go faster," he said.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DAYTONA 500 TOP-10 FINISHERS
DRIVER CAR POINTS
1. Ryan Newman Dodge 190
2. Kurt Busch Dodge 175
3. Tony Stewart Toyota 170
4. Kyle Busch Toyota 170
5. Reed Sorenson Dodge 160
6. Elliot Sadler Dodge 150
7. Kasey Kahne Dodge 151
8. Robby Gordon Dodge 142
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 143
10. Greg Biffle Ford 139
WHAT: Auto Club 500
WHERE: California Speedway
WHEN: 4:15 p.m. Sunday
TV: Fox-Ch. 54
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Matt Kenseth