-- Ryan Newman stole a race Tony Stewart thought was his.
Newman, who barely squeezed into the 10-man Chase for the Nextel Cup, got off to a fast start in NASCAR's 10-race playoff Sunday by outdueling points leader Stewart down the stretch to win the Sylvania 300.
Stewart, who started from the pole, dominated through much of the race, leading 173 of the 300 laps at New Hampshire International Speedway. But Newman won a late battle with Stewart, passing him on Lap 299 and holding the top spot by two car-lengths.
"Tony wasn't happy with the balance of his car at the end," said Newman, who led 66 laps. "His car was going away at the right time for me. It was going away faster than mine. But that's the best racing I've seen at this track."
Following the final pit stops by the leaders, Newman found himself just ahead of Stewart when the green flag waved with 16 laps to go after the last of 10 caution flags.
The streaking Stewart, on the way to his 13th consecutive finish of eighth or better, was relentless in trying to retake the lead, pulling up to the rear quarterpanel of Newman's Penske Racing South Dodge time after time before finally slipping below him on the backstretch on Lap 292.
But Newman, whose last win came a year ago in Dover, Del., wouldn't give up. He stayed with Stewart, got beneath the Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet on Lap 299 and pulled ahead, staying out front to win by 0.292 of a second.
Chase contenders Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finished third and fourth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is out of the Chase but running his first race with Tony Eury Jr. back as his crew chief.
"Tony and I are a good combination," said the fan favorite Earnhardt, who has struggled through a disappointing season. "And we're going to try to work toward next year. These next nine races are real important and we're going to try to build on that."
Newman was ecstatic after his first win in 35 races, finally breaking through for a win after season-long struggles -- and doing it in the biggest race so far this season.
"That was a long time without a Cup win," said Newman, who drove part time in the Busch Series this year and got a boost by winning three straight at one point.
It was Newman's 12th career win and, more important, moved him from 10th in the standings -- a position he barely grabbed with a 12th place finish last week in Richmond -- to a tie for third with teammate Rusty Wallace, both of them trailing Stewart by 40 points and Biffle by 20.
Wallace finished sixth, with Chase contenders Mark Martin seventh, Jimmie Johnson eighth, Jeremy Mayfield 16th, Carl Edwards 19th and defending champion Kurt Busch, involved in a crash on the second lap of the race, 35th.
British Driver Killed
British driver Michael Park was killed when his car hit a tree during the Wales Rally of Great Britain. He was 39.
Park, a co-driver with Estonian Markko Martin on the Peugeot team, crashed during the 15th stage of the race, while Martin wasn't injured.
"It is with deep regret that we confirm that Michael Park was fatally injured," organizers said in a statement after the accident on the 17-mile Margam stage.
Martin spun off at high speed shortly after the start of the stage and the right side of the car slammed into a tree, Peugeot Sport director Jean-Pierre Nicolas said. Peugeot immediately withdrew from the event, and the final two stages of the race were canceled.
"A serious accident has left Peugeot in mourning," the French carmaker said in a statement.
Park, married with two children, had been Martin's co-driver since 2000, with the duo winning five world rallies together.
With Peugeot pulling out the car of Marcus Gronholm, Frenchman Sebastien Loeb was on course to win the rally and the world championship. He then took a deliberate time penalty to finish third. Petter Solberg won the race.
"There's no way I wanted to win the world title like that," Loeb said.