500 LONG MILES FOR STEWART AT DARLINGTON Myriad Issues Lead to 23rd-Place Finish at Track 'Too Tough to Tame' The track "Too Tough to Tame" lived up to its billing in Saturday night's Showtime Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at ...
500 LONG MILES FOR STEWART AT DARLINGTON
Myriad Issues Lead to 23rd-Place Finish at Track 'Too Tough to Tame'
The track "Too Tough to Tame" lived up to its billing in Saturday night's Showtime Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, at least for Tony Stewart. The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing dealt with a myriad of issues en route to a 23rd-place finish at the venerable 1.366-mile oval.
From the start of the 367-lap race, Stewart had a racecar that was loose back to the gas each time he came off the track's corners. Track bar, wedge and air pressure adjustments were used throughout the race to alleviate the car's ill-handling ways, but adding to the team's headaches was a slew of problems that only compounded their original difficulty in navigating the track's tight confines.
There were the typical bumps and scrapes that come with racing at NASCAR's oldest circuit, with the first being a chain-reaction crash that saw Stewart get into the back of Paul Menard's Ford on lap 63, when traffic stacked up in between turns one and two. While Menard spun to the apron, Stewart received some cosmetic damage to the nose of his Old Spice/Office Depot machine.
Then, on what was supposed to be the team's third pit stop on lap 85, Stewart missed his stall when traffic clogged pit road and prevented him from angling into his box. The non-stop did have one benefit as it put Stewart into the lead when the race restarted on lap 89.
Stewart hung tough on the restart, holding the point for five laps before his worn tires became no match to the cars with fresher tires that were in pursuit. Slowly, Stewart dropped back, but maintained a presence in the top-10 through the lap-100 mark.
That top-10 stead was short-lived, however, for Stewart was at least 20 laps off the pit cycle of his competitors. He had to pit on lap 122 for fuel and tires and, in doing so, dropped all the way to 28th. With his car still not handling the way it needed to, Stewart pushed as hard as he could without pushing his car over the edge.
Unfortunately, Stewart found that edge on lap 196 when his car stepped out on him and the right-rear slapped the turn-four wall. The Old Spice/Office Depot Chevy had gone from being too tight to being too loose, and that loose condition reared its ugly head again when Stewart spun off turn four to bring out the caution on lap 201.
On the subsequent trip to pit road, the damage from the previous incident where Stewart slapped the wall was attended to, and after a second trip to pit road, Stewart was back in action in 23rd when the race restarted on lap 205.
Now, the car was back to being tight, even as the two-time Sprint Cup champion was catching the drivers in front of him. But while Stewart was running down those directly ahead of him, he was being run down by the leaders.
On lap 336, Stewart lost a lap to eventual race-winner Denny Hamlin, and it was a deficit he could not overcome. When the checkered flag mercifully dropped, Stewart was 23rd.
Also dropping was Stewart's position in the championship standings. He fell three spots to 18th, where he now has 1,259 points and is 59 markers outside the top-12.
Teammate Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing, came out of Darlington with a solid ninth-place finish. It was Newman's fourth top-10 in the last six races and it bumped him up two spots in the championship standings to 14th, 38 points back of 12th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Hamlin's win in the Showtime Southern 500 was his 11th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his first at Darlington. Jamie McMurray finished 1.908 seconds behind Hamlin in the runner-up slot, while Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top-five. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Newman and Brian Vickers comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 56 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the May 16 Autism Speaks 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at noon.
-source: shr / tsc