Dover race turns to test for Stewart

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Stewart-Haas Racing

Mobil 1/Office Depot Driver Involved in Early Accident, Rallies to Finish 25th

How does a team get around NASCAR’s testing ban at sanctioned NASCAR Sprint Cup Series venues? One way is to wreck early in a race, fix the car while falling out of contention and use the remaining laps as a test session, where various chassis adjustments can be tested in real-time race conditions.

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

That’s what Tony Stewart and his No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot team did in the FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, where Stewart was caught in a 12-car accident on lap 10 of the 400-lap race around the 1-mile concrete oval.

It’s a bit unorthodox, but effective – at least in terms of learning. Gaining points toward the season-ending championship? Not so much.

But Stewart was able to do both. He and crew chief Steve Addington continued to tune the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy enough so its lap times were as quick as those running among the top-five, despite having a patched up nose and rear bumper.

The accident in which Stewart was collected brought out the red flag, which halted the on-track action for 19 minutes and 54 seconds.

That time allowed Stewart’s battered Chevy to be towed from its spot against the backstretch wall that lines the infield off turn two to the garage area. With NASCAR prohibiting crew members from working on their cars while the red flag is displayed, crew chief Steve Addington was able to organize personnel and equipment efficiently so repair work could begin quickly when the red flag was lifted.

On lap 74, Stewart returned to Dover’s concrete surface in 35th place. But with a high attrition rate already underway, Stewart rose to 30th by lap 90.

While 65 laps down, Stewart still picked up positions, as attrition continued to decimate the field. By lap 280, Stewart had risen to 25th, thanks in part to a blown engine suffered by Kyle Busch and a lap-165 encounter with the turn two wall by Carl Edwards.

When the checkered flag waved after 400 laps, Stewart had gained 10 positions. It was a testament to the team’s hard work and never-give-up spirit that allowed the three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champions to pick up 10 extremely valuable championship points that otherwise would have been lost if the team had not returned to the racetrack.

“You know, we finished 25th last week at Charlotte, and none of us were happy about it,” said Stewart, referencing his frustrating run in last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. “To finish 25th here, on a day like today, we’ll take it, because it could’ve been a lot worse.

“We made the best out of a bad situation. We really haven’t been very good here lately, so to have more than 300 laps to test at a track that we’ll come back to in the fall during the Chase is something that you really can’t duplicate anywhere else. I mean, no one wants to finish 25th, but all things considered, this one doesn’t hurt as bad.”

Teammate Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 15th for his seventh top-15 finish of 2012 and his 16th top-15 in 21 career Sprint Cup starts at Dover.

Jimmie Johnson won the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks to score his 57th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his seventh at Dover. Johnson is now tied with NASCAR legends Bobby Allison and Richard Petty for most career Sprint Cup victories at Dover.

Kevin Harvick finished 2.550 seconds behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Marcos Ambrose comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were seven caution periods for 32 laps, with 17 drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.

With round 13 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He picked up one spot to climb to eighth and has 407 points, 79 back of series leader Greg Biffle and one point ahead of ninth-place Busch. Newman maintained his 13th-place standing and has 366 points, which puts him 120 points behind Biffle while providing a one-point cushion over 14th-place Kasey Kahne.

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chevrolet, stewart, stewart-haas