Late Charge Earns Stewart Top-Three at Atlanta
Office Depot/Mobil 1 Driver Inches Closer to Chase Berth
With a thundering charge late in the race, Tony Stewart gained five spots in the final 10 laps to score a remarkable third-place finish in Tuesday’s rain-postponed AdvoCare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It was Stewart’s 15th top-10 finish in 25 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.54-mile oval and his 10th top-10 finish this season.
I’m really proud of Darian Grubb and all these guys.
“We had an awesome car at the end,” Stewart said. “We gained 8.5 seconds on the leader. It was definitely an awesome run.”
After starting 20th in the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Stewart knew early on he had a machine good enough to earn a strong finish, and he spent much of the first 425 miles of the 325-lap race working with crew chief Darian Grubb to massage the car’s handling.
Through a series of small track bar, wedge and tire pressure adjustments, Stewart’s car went from a little loose to nearly perfect for the final sprint to the checkered flag.
On lap 296, Stewart passed Matt Kenseth for eighth and remained there for the next several laps. While a top-10 finish would’ve been a nice result for the Office Depot/Mobil 1 team, Stewart had other ideas.
He remained in eighth place until lap 318 when suddenly he went on a tear, picking off nearly one car per lap. He was quickly up to seventh and then got by Kevin Harvick for sixth.
With three laps remaining, he moved past Brad Keselowski and one lap later shot by Carl Edwards and into fourth place. After the white flag was displayed signaling the final lap, he drove past the machine of Kurt Busch and into his finishing position of third.
It was an incredible drive and gave Stewart his best result since his runner-up finish in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
“It was just a really good Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy,” Stewart said. “I’m really proud of Darian Grubb and all these guys. It was a long day, for sure, and we battled a lot of adversity to get back up there. But I’m really proud. They say we gained eight-and-a-half seconds on the leaders on the last run there. You look at this thing (the racecar) and look at the front of it and look at how beat up it is. I’m very proud of these guys. They gave me a great racecar.”
The great racecar also helped Kacie Howard, owner of HuckleBerry Pets in Daytona Beach, Fla., win this year’s “Official Small Business of NASCAR, Courtesy of Office Depot” sweepstakes. Office Depot, the Official Office Products Partner of NASCAR, partnered with 3M for this national promotion, and Howard was one of two finalists.
Stewart featured the HuckleBerry Pets logo on his car during the AdvoCare 500, while fellow driver Greg Biffle featured the small business logo of sweepstakes finalist Sara Mortensen, owner of Bales Mold Service, Inc., in Downers Grove, Ill., on his No. 16 3M Ford.
Biffle finished 12th to Stewart’s third-place run, and as the small business featured on the highest-finishing driver’s car at the end of the race, Howard’s HuckleBerry Pets was crowned the 2011 “Official Small Business of NASCAR, Courtesy of Office Depot” and will receive the use of the “Official Small Business of NASCAR, Courtesy of Office Depot” logo for one year.
Stewart’s SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Reserve Chevrolet Impala, finished 20th. With the top-20 effort, Newman clinched a spot in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship with one race remaining before the cutoff for the 10-race Chase. This marks Newman’s fourth appearance in the Chase since NASCAR’s playoff system began in 2004 and his second Chase appearance since joining SHR in 2009.
With round 25 of 36 complete, Newman continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He fell one spot to eighth and now has 786 points, 87 markers back of new series leader Jimmie Johnson and 58 points ahead of 11th-place Keselowski. Stewart remained 10th and now has 751 points, which puts him 122 points behind Johnson while giving him a 23-point cushion over Keselowski.
I’m really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing for their dedication.
Stewart can earn a spot in the Chase for the seventh time of his career with a finish of 18th or better in the series’ next race Sept. 10 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
“I’m really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing for their dedication,” Stewart said. “They keep persevering and pushing it to make it better each week. It’s been a tough last couple of months, but I appreciate everybody in our shop, the road crews, and we got Ryan in the Chase today and I’m really proud of him and his U.S. Army/Tornados/Haas Automation Chevy.”
Jeff Gordon won the AdvoCare 500 to score his 85th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his fifth at Atlanta. Gordon is now third on the all-time Sprint Cup win list behind only Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105 wins).
Johnson finished .598 of a second behind Gordon in the runner-up spot, while Stewart, Busch and Edwards rounded out the top-five. Keselowski, Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kenseth and A.J. Allmendinger comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 64 laps with 11 drivers failing to finish the 500-mile race.
The Sept. 10 Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond gets underway at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.