Stewart Rides Knife Edge To Stay a Cut Above
Tony Stewart drove on a knife edge throughout Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
With a racecar that teetered between being too tight and too loose around the 2-mile oval, Stewart manhandled his No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala to a solid ninth-place finish.
“I don’t know what we have to do to get our car balanced for a day, but we can’t,” said Stewart after earning his 18th top-10 finish at Michigan and his ninth top-10 finish of 2011. “We haven’t figured it out, yet. We were on both sides of the coin all day long. Just back and forth between tight and loose. We’ll just take what we can get, I guess.”
What Stewart got was some cushion in the championship point standings. He maintained his 10th-place position – the final guaranteed spot for the 12-driver Chase for the Championship, which will be decided in the next three races. Positions 11 and 12 are wild card slots that go to the drivers between 11th and 20th in points that have the most wins this season.
Stewart, still winless in 2011, either needs to stay in the top-10 or win the next three races to assure himself of making the Chase. His gritty drive in the Pure Michigan 400 kept him above the cut, as he managed to hold onto his top-10 point standing while keeping a relatively healthy 24-point margin between himself and 11th-place Clint Bowyer, who is also winless. Currently, the wild cards would go to two-time winner Brad Keselowski and one-time victor Denny Hamlin, who would earn the tiebreaker among other one-win drivers by virtue of his 14th-place point standing, highest among those with only one win who are outside the top-10 in points.
“I don’t want to have to rely on the wild card,” Stewart said. “I just want to keep getting points, and if we can stay in the top-10, then we don’t have to worry about that wild-card spot.”
His Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate, Ryan Newman, finished fifth in the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet Impala. It was Newman’s fifth top-five finish at Michigan and his eighth top-five finish this season.
The last time both SHR drivers finished in the top-10 was in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Newman won the race and Stewart finished second.
Newman continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings after round 23 of 36. He moved up one spot to seventh and now has 725 points, 74 markers back of series leader Kyle Busch and 55 points ahead of Bowyer.
Busch won the Pure Michigan 400 to score his 23rd career Sprint Cup victory, his series-best fourth of the season and his first at Michigan. With the win, Busch clinched a spot in the Chase.
Five-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson finished .568 of a second behind Busch in the runner-up spot, while Keselowski, Mark Martin and Newman rounded out the top-five. Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Bowyer, Stewart and Matt Kenseth comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 21 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 203-lap race, which was extended three laps past its scheduled distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.