STEWART SCORES TOP-10 TUESDAY AT MICHIGAN Home Depot Driver Inches Ever Closer to Securing Chase Birth Tony Stewart's 10th-place finish in Tuesday's rain-postponed 3M Performance 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Michigan International ...
STEWART SCORES TOP-10 TUESDAY AT MICHIGAN
Home Depot Driver Inches Ever Closer to Securing Chase Birth
Tony Stewart's 10th-place finish in Tuesday's rain-postponed 3M Performance 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn inched him ever closer to securing a spot in this year's Chase for the Nextel Cup.
Three races remain before the final, 10-race dash for the title, but Stewart's 16th top-10 finish of the season gives him a healthy 512-point buffer over 13th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. Only the top-12 drivers in points following the 26th race of the season at Richmond (Va.) advance into the Chase, and Stewart simply needs a 391-point margin over the 13th-place driver following the upcoming race at Bristol (Tenn.) to lock himself into the Chase.
While the 10th-place effort at Michigan brought Stewart closer to the Chase, it was the furthest things from his mind and that of his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli. While most teams revel in a top-10 finish in the ultra-competitive Nextel Cup Series, the No. 20 Home Depot-sponsored team of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) expects more.
"I'm a little disappointed with 10th," Zipadelli said. "I think at one point in the race we were probably a fourth- to sixth-place car, and we just couldn't get there. We made adjustments and it just seemed like we couldn't get that last little bit out of it. We kind of struggled all weekend for some reason. We didn't take off very good on the front side. It seemed like we were okay if we had long runs, then we started getting all those cautions and that kind of hurt us."
Stewart started 35th among the 43 drivers in the 3M Performance 400, and despite having quite a bit of real estate between him and the leaders, Stewart marched toward the front. After having run the first 12 laps under caution to let heavy fog subside so that team spotters could watch their cars on the backstretch, Stewart used the ensuing green flag laps to pick up 10 spots by lap 24.
Even with a Home Depot Chevrolet that was either too loose or too tight through Michigan's sweeping, high-banked corners, Stewart rose through the field, cracking the top-10 on lap 65. He became a top-10 mainstay, dropping back to 12th just for a few laps following restarts.
"The car was just evil on restarts," Stewart said. "It seemed like we were either on one side of the coin or the other. It would be loose where I was just hanging onto it or it was too tight. It's a top-10, but I think we all thought we would be better than that."
Stewart climbed to as high as seventh when the caution flag waved for a Jeff Gordon spin on lap 189. But two restarts in the race's last 10 laps meant that Stewart was always at a disadvantage. On each restart he dropped to 12th, only to claw his way back into the top-10.
The top-10 result allowed Stewart to keep his fourth-place position in the championship point standings. He picked up 47 points on series leader Gordon, and now trails the four-time champion by 398 points.