Fort Worth, Texas Things finally went right for Ryan Newman.
First, he caught a break when half the drivers on the lead lap made green-flag pit stops before a caution flag allowed Newman to make his stop without losing ground.
Then, on his final stop, the 25-year-old racer gambled on changing only two tires, lost the lead to Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the ensuing restart, but was able to retake the lead from the crowd favorite with 11 laps to go.
Newman pulled away at the end to win Sunday's Samsung/Radio Shack 500 by half the final straightaway.
"It was great when all those lead cars got caught in the pits," Newman said. "I was worried for sure when Junior passed me after the last stop. I thought for sure they would have made their car a little bit better, too."
The tire gamble by last year's top rookie paid off with his second career victory and first since Sept. 15, 2002, in New Hampshire.
"Tires and track position were key, for sure," Newman said. "We didn't think four tires were going to make that much of a difference and we needed to get to the front some way."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead late, as he built a margin of up to 20 car-lengths before his car developed a handling problem and Newman began to reel in the leader.
The cars were side-by-side as they crossed the finish line on lap 323, and Newman then pulled steadily ahead, moving away to win by 3.405-seconds.
"He had a better restart," Newman said. "He got by me and we raced each other clean. That's a hard thing to do at a place like Texas, where the speeds are so high and you have to come off the corners so close.
"After I finally got by Junior, I felt a lot better," Newman said. "It was just awesome to finally win."
Newman, one of NASCAR's heralded "Young Guns" gave Penske Racing South its first win since switching from Ford to Dodge this winter. No Dodge driver had finished better than fifth in the first six races this season.
Newman, the seventh different winner in 2003, averaged 134.517 mph in the race slowed by 52 laps of caution.
After Newman took control, Earnhardt had to fend off four-time series champion Jeff Gordon for second place. Gordon chased down and passed Earnhardt on lap 333, but Earnhardt bumped past Gordon's Chevrolet on the final straightaway to take the runner-up spot by 0.002 seconds -- a matter of inches.
"We had a good car, but not good enough," Earnhardt said. "My car was junk there at the end. I tried to hold (Newman) on the bottom and make his car push, but he still got by me. Then I had a real good fight with Gordon."
Jerry Nadeau finished fourth, followed by Mark Martin and series points leader and last year's Texas winner Matt Kenseth.
Kurt Busch finished ninth and now trails his Roush Racing teammate by 155 points in the standings. Earnhardt jumped from fifth to third, 166 behind Kenseth.
Newman, whose best previous finish in six races this season was seventh in Las Vegas, moved from 15th to eighth in the standings, trailing the leader by 242 points.