With 10 laps remaining in the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Tony Stewart was in third place and lined up for his best finish of the young 2013 Sprint Cup season.
But when the green flag waved on the lap 190 restart, second-place Joey Logano dropped low to the inside of the track, forcing Stewart to wheel his No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS to the frontstretch apron.
After leading twice for a total of 18 laps around the 2-mile oval, only to see his efforts account for a 22nd-place finish, Stewart was less than pleased. He ended last year’s Auto Club 400 in victory lane.
But this year, Stewart ended his race on pit road, where he confronted Logano about the late-race block.
“For a guy that has been complaining about how everybody else is driving here and then (for) him to do that, it’s a double standard,” Stewart said. “He makes the choice.
He makes the decision to run us down there, and when you run a driver down there, then you take responsibility for what happens after that.”
While unfortunate, the outcome was not indicative of the performance delivered by the Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 team of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
After starting eighth, a loose-handling racecar dropped Stewart to 16th. On lap 30 during the race’s first caution period, Stewart made his first trip to pit road for a round of chassis adjustments that turned his fortunes. And in their final pit stop, crew chief Steve Addington opted for right-side tires only, which gained Stewart ever-important track position.
“We came in that last stop and got two tires, and that got us an awesome restart on the outside that got us to third,” Stewart said. “I was proud of the restart and really proud of the team. They did an awesome job and had awesome pit stops and made great changes all day.
“I don’t know what happened at the end. I think we had a tire going down. If not, we had something else that actually happened. But it started right before the caution and was really bad afterward.
It’s still no excuse for Joey to do what he did. I’m just tired of watching these kids whine and then they sit there and act tough when their crew guys get in the middle of it.
If NASCAR wants us to let the guys have at it, it shouldn’t be any different than hockey. Let the guys have at it, and then when one guy goes to the ground, it’s over.”
Stewart’s SHR teammate Ryan Newman fared better in the 400-mile race. Newman, driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet for SHR, was one of the drivers to pit for four tires during the final caution on lap 186 and made the most of the closing laps, finishing 10th.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for SHR, battled a loose-handling racecar throughout the Auto Club 400. She finished 26th in her first Sprint Cup race at Fontana.
Kyle Busch won the Auto Club 400 to score his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at Fontana.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished behind Busch in the runner-up spot as the race ended under caution for a last-lap crash involving Logano and Denny Hamlin. Logano, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five, while Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne and Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 35 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 200-lap race.
With round five of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He gained three spots to climb to 20th, 78 points behind new series leader Earnhardt.
Stewart picked up two positions to rise to 22nd, 91 points out of first. Patrick dropped one spot to fall to 29th, 112 points behind Earnhardt.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished six spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 20th.