STEWART SOLID BUT SNAKE-BITTEN AT MARTINSVILLE Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Finishes 24th after Being a Top-15 Mainstay Tony Stewart rallied back from two pit-road miscues but could not overcome a flat right-front tire with less than 10 laps ...
STEWART SOLID BUT SNAKE-BITTEN AT MARTINSVILLE
Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Finishes 24th after Being a Top-15 Mainstay
Tony Stewart rallied back from two pit-road miscues but could not overcome a flat right-front tire with less than 10 laps remaining and finished a disappointing 24th in Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) was 13th on lap 490 of the 500-lap event, but the flat right-front tire forced him to pit road under green and he lost two laps and 11 valuable positions.
Stewart started sixth, but early on could not get his car to rotate through the center of the corners as well as he and crew chief Darian Grubb would've liked. After a lap-50 pit stop, which included four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment, Stewart remained in the top-15 and reported that his car was handling better, but just not fast enough to keep up with the cars in front of him.
Throughout the next 75 laps, his car began to come to life and he was seventh by lap 140. However, he was clocked by NASCAR officials as being three mph faster than the 30 mph posted pit-road speed limit when he entered pit road for a stop under caution on lap 173.
Despite falling to 32nd after being sent to the tail end of the longest line following his pit-road infraction, he quickly worked his way back up to 10th by lap 225.
By now, his Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy was handling the best it would all day and he was second by lap 293. Just past the 300-lap mark, however, his car began encountering trouble rolling through the center of the corner once again, and he fell to 10th by lap 383.
When Stewart hit pit road under caution on lap 388 for four tires, fuel and another wedge adjustment, a problem with a lugnut on the right-front wheel cost the No. 14 team precious time and caused it to fall back to 16th.
From there, the handling of Stewart's car began to worsen and he struggled to crack the top-10 in the final 100 laps before the late tire problem ended any chance of a good finish.
"We got better and better as the day went on, then got a little bit off at the middle of the race, but we had a fast car after that," Grubb said. "We had a pit-road speeding penalty that was our own fault, then a pit-road miscue that was our own fault and a couple of other things that kept knocking us back. Then it went green for a really long time at the end, and our car got really tight and we're not sure really why. But then we blew a bead out (in the right-front tire), had to come in under green and finished two laps down."
Stewart's SHR teammate Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala, finished 30th. Newman led twice for 32 of the opening 127 laps around the .526-mile paperclip-shaped oval before a broken rear gear sent him to the garage for 42 laps and took him out of contention for the remainder of the race.
Denny Hamlin won the TUMS Fast Relief 500 to earn his 15th career Sprint Cup victory, his series-high seventh win of the season, and his fourth victory and 10th top-10 finish in 11 races at Martinsville. Hamlin has now won three consecutive Sprint Cup races at Martinsville and four of the last six.
Mark Martin finished 2.318 seconds behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five. Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Brad Keselowski comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 15 caution periods for 90 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish.
Stewart represents SHR in this year's Chase for the Championship. He came to Martinsville sixth among the top-12 drivers competing for this year's title, 177 points behind Chase leader Johnson. His 24th-place finish dropped him to seventh in points, 236 markers arrears Johnson.
Newman fell one spot to 15th, 127 points behind 13th-place Jamie McMurray, the highest non-Chase driver in points.