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Ryan Newman delivers another big moment for Richard Childress Racing

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Ryan Newman's career highlight at Richard Childress Racing up until Sunday at Phoenix Raceway came at exactly the same track under totally different circumstances.

Winning wasn't everything that day. The only thing was making it to the final round of NASCAR's version of the playoffs.

Newman tagged Kyle Larson on the final lap then, needing that spot for 11th place to advance. In a year when he played the rules perfectly, he "mediocred" his way through much of the season and ran well enough when it meant the most in order to advance in each round.

If it seems like that occurred a long time ago, it did: 77 races ago, back in November 2014.

There haven't been many happy days at RCR since then, and even before then with RCR's previous win coming in November 2013 at Phoenix. So no wonder Newman and his RCR team felt a mixture of exhaustion and ecstasy as they celebrated a triumph Sunday that -- like that time back in 2014 -- didn't appear likely for much of the sweltering afternoon at the 1-mile oval in the desert.

"There's a lot of guys in this sport that have never won," Newman said after his 18th career victory that snapped a 127-race winless streak. "Going a long time without winning, you have confidence in your mind that you can do it. There's guys that go their whole career and never win, and good drivers.

"You've just got to stay humble. This sport, you walk away from it, there's one guy that wins, 39 losers."

The victory ended a 112-race winless streak for Richard Childress Racing and delivered the first NASCAR Cup win for crew chief Luke Lambert in 157 attempts.

"This is something that, as a competitor, I've wanted to be a part of for so long that it's a bit overwhelming," said Lambert, who first crew chiefed a Cup car in 2011. "I knew it would mean a lot. I knew it would be overwhelming.

"Every race that has gone by that we haven't been able to win has ultimately made that hunger for a victory a little bit more. The shock is similar [to 2014]. ... I haven't even fully absorbed it yet."

Lambert played a key role in the win, making the call for Newman, in seventh, to stay out when 23 of the other 26 lead-lap cars pitted with six laps remaining.

The others who didn't pit finished fourth (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) and 11th (Martin Truex Jr.). Larson finished second this time, followed by Kyle Busch, who had led 123 consecutive laps prior to -- of all people, his punching bag from last week -- Joey Logano blowing a right front tire to bring out a caution that didn't allow Busch to cruise to the win.

It came down to a pit call, and Lambert put the wheel in Newman's hands. He delivered.

"It's a similar feeling of success," Newman said in comparing the win Sunday to that of 2014 and making the final round of the playoffs. "That gave me an opportunity at the championship. Today gives me an opportunity at the championship [with a playoff berth].

"But you kind of just live in the moment. ... 'How good are those tires going to refire [today]?' I believe it was the only time today that anybody actually stayed out on old tires. Sometimes you lead by example. Sometimes you fail by example. Fortunately, we won it."

Frankly, RCR hasn't come close to winning throughout the drought. Newman led just 41 laps in that 2014 season when he nearly won the title. Since joining RCR at the start of that year, Newman had led 88 laps up until Sunday.

"There for a while, we had all the downforce on the cars," Newman said about the 2014-15 seasons. "It was a downforce and horsepower game -- who had the most horsepower to pull the downforce. ... Our engines have been good all year.

"I think this [reduced] downforce package is playing to our favor as well. It's fun to go out there and slide around a little bit. We were actually more competitive than we've ever been at this racetrack today, able to get around other cars."

Newman led only six laps at Phoenix, but he had a strong enough car to hold off the hard-charging Larson, who admitted he made a mistake when racing Stenhouse that ruined his momentum and any chance of catching Newman.

The 39-year-old Newman last won in the 2013 Brickyard 400. Kevin Harvick won later that year in the next-to-last race at Phoenix, a full year after the news broke that he would leave RCR for Stewart-Haas Racing .

"It's sweet for so many reasons. ... It's just a hard-fought race, a hard-fought battle, a hard-fought four years," Newman said.

Over three full winless seasons from 2014-2016, RCR had posted 25 top-5s. Newman made the playoffs in 2014 and 2015, Paul Menard in 2015 and Austin Dillon in 2016. That showed promise, but those years were filled with peaks and valleys.

"I certainly had hoped we would be to Victory Lane before now," said Lambert, paired with Newman since his arrival at RCR in 2014. "I feel like our race team has surpassed a lot of expectations, but we also have not delivered as rapidly, as far as getting to the winner's circle, as I would like for us to.

"I just want to say how hard everybody has worked at our company for a number of years to get us here and how proud that makes me."

Lambert credited Childress, whose confidence and drive have helped the team persevere. Childress helped push the team to become more nimble over the past 15 months. While a race team mimics a car manufacturing facility, the organization put in infrastructure to build and rebuild cars more quickly, employing what the team learned week to week.

"Our guys, we came back from the test here [Jan. 31-Feb. 1], we weren't where we wanted to be," Childress said. "We kept cutting bodies off, working seven days a week, working all kinds of hours to get our cars back to being competitive."

Lambert has worked through all that, wondering when a celebration would punctuate the efforts.

"One of our slogans this year at RCR is 'It Takes Drive,'" Lambert said. "Us getting here today is an example of that drive and that steadfast, stubborn passion for racing and building better race cars that has taken us years to get us back here."