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Associated Press
Ryan Newman is hugged by team owner and driver Tony Stewart after Newman won the Brickyard 400 on Sunday.

Victory tinged with bittersweet feeling

– He grabbed the man from behind when it was finished, hoisting him into the air. And then Ryan Newman turned around, and a bro hug to end all bro hugs ensued.

Call it Tony Stewart’s way of holding fast to a day and a weekend that seemed to come out of nowhere, and was all the sweeter because of that.

First there was Newman, his buddy and for-the-present employee, stealing the pole position for the Brickyard 400 off Jimmie Johnson’s plate on the last run of the day. Then, on Sunday, he did it again, taking advantage of a pokey stop by the No. 48 on the last pit cycle to steal the lead with 27 laps to go and win the Brickyard, while his boss finished fourth.

So a win and a top five for Stewart/Haas Racing in the race Stewart most aches to win, in the midst of a year that’s been mostly ache and very little win. Time to bask, surely.

“I don’t know how you could ask for a better week on our side,” Stewart said when it was done. “For Ryan, a huge day. When we were little, this was the place. This is where we wanted to be. To see him get one. … I’m glad our last trip to the Brickyard together as teammates, you know, we’re watching him kiss the bricks today.”

The last trip part, of course, made it all the more poignant. Two weeks ago, before the race at Loudon, N.H., Stewart had to break to the news to his friend that their working relationship was going to end at the conclusion of the season. With Kevin Harvick coming aboard and bringing Budweiser with him, there was suddenly no room in the inn for Newman.

“It was hard,” Stewart said Sunday. “It was hard because when you run a business, you’ve got to make decisions that you think are best for the company. The hard thing is you have to take the emotion out of the equation.

“Even before Ryan came and drove for us, we were friends. So that made the decision and that made that phone call of telling him that much harder.”

And it’s been a hard enough season already. Newman came to Indy with one pole, two top fives, eight top 10s and an average finish of 18.7 in 19 races. Stewart, meanwhile, had 12 finishes of 15th or worse in 19 starts.

And, suddenly, here came Sunday.

“For Ryan to get the pole yesterday, for us to win today, for us to qualify fifth and run fourth today, that’s a big deal,” Stewart said. “That’s a big deal for our organization. It’s days like this that make up for the rough start we got to the year. For those guys to go from sitting behind laptops a lot in the shop, being in aero rooms, seven-post rigs, now being on the road and to be kissing the bricks today, that’s a pretty strong statement.”

bensmith@jg.net

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