STEWART SNARES NINTH-PLACE FINISH AT MARTINSVILLE Late Caution Thwarts Potential Top-Five for Old Spice/Office Depot Driver Tony Stewart hung on for a respectable ninth-place finish in Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race...
STEWART SNARES NINTH-PLACE FINISH AT MARTINSVILLE
Late Caution Thwarts Potential Top-Five for Old Spice/Office Depot Driver
Tony Stewart hung on for a respectable ninth-place finish in Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway after a late-race caution thwarted his chance for a top-five result.
The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) earned his 22nd top-10 of the season and his 13th top-10 in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville.
"It was definitely a survival day for us," said Darian Grubb, crew chief of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet. "We were a lot better taking off on a run at the start of the race. We made the car better all day. About the middle of the race, we had the car really good, but had a bad pit stop and fell back in traffic. We had to make up for that and try a little strategy, but it ended up putting us back in the field. We were able to run up into the top-five from there, but late cautions didn't play out for us. We struggled to hang on to a top-10 in the end."
A sequence of events in the final 50 laps of the 501-lap race provided a microcosm of the up-and-down day Stewart, Grubb and the entire No. 14 team endured.
After making what would turn out to be his final pit stop on lap 444, Stewart restarted the race in 11th-place on lap 448. From there, the two-time Sprint Cup champion picked off six drivers in front of him and was fifth by lap 466.
He fell back to sixth on lap 478 when his SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, slipped past him, but with slightly more than 20 laps remaining, it appeared a top-five could still be in the cards for Stewart.
When an untimely caution came out on lap 485, Stewart and Grubb knew immediately they had a tough decision to make -- stay out and keep the track position or pit for fresh tires. The duo decided to stay out, but unfortunately for them, every car behind them entered pit road, meaning every car behind the No. 14 would have the advantage of more grip and thus, a faster racecar.
Stewart put up a valiant fight against the faster cars behind him, and he was aided by a late caution from laps 496-499 that ended the race in a green-white-checkered finish one lap past its originally scheduled 500-lap distance.
"Everything didn't fall the way we needed it to," Grubb said. "It wasn't what we wanted. I think we had a top-four or five car. We just needed to get the car up in that track position and we just didn't get it when it was all over with."
Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army/Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for SHR, finished seventh to score his 15th top-10 finish of 2009 and his eighth in 16 career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville.
The last time both SHR cars finished in the top-10 came in September at Dover (Del.) International Speedway when Stewart finished ninth and Newman placed 10th.
Denny Hamlin beat three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson under caution to win the TUMS Fast Relief 500 and score his seventh career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his second at Martinsville.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third, while Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-five. Jamie McMurray, Newman, Mark Martin, Stewart and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 15 caution periods for 77 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the event.
Both SHR drivers are represented in this year's Chase for the Championship. Stewart remained fourth in the standings, but is now 192 points behind Chase leader Johnson. Newman gained one spot to seventh, 312 markers out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Nov. 1 AMP Energy 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.