Stewart Snags Sixth at Indy
Mobil 1/Office Depot Driver Rallies from Deep in Field to Score Eighth Top-10 of Season
In an up-and-down race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a tenacious Tony Stewart made sure he finished Sunday’s Brickyard 400 on the upswing. The driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) rallied from as low as 32nd to finish sixth, securing his eighth top-10 finish of the season and lifting him into the top-10 of the championship point standings.
“We just fought all day and I’m really proud of Darian Grubb (crew chief) and the guys on this Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy,” said Stewart after notching his ninth top-10 finish at Indianapolis and his eighth of the season. “They kept fighting and I fought for everything I could get all day.”
The day got off to an inauspicious start when after rising to 16th after starting 24th, Stewart was assessed a pass-through penalty for hitting the commitment cone as he entered pit road during a lap-25 pit stop, which came from Stewart avoiding a rapidly slowing Kevin Harvick.
“Kevin lifted earlier than I did coming off of turn four and instead of running into him, I went to the outside of him, and when we got to the cone there, I was in the wrong spot,” Stewart said. “It was just one of those things. You’re trying to get everything you can get. It was either hit the cone or run over the guy in front of me, so I chose to hit the cone. We got the penalty for it. I’m proud of our guys for working from behind and getting us where we got at the end.”
Stewart served the pass-through penalty on lap 29, which consisted of driving down the length of pit road at the mandated speed limit of 55 mph while his counterparts zoomed past on the racetrack at 200 mph. When Stewart came off pit road, he was 31st but still on the lead lap.
With a fast, but tight-handling racecar, Stewart began a charge to the front. The charge was stout – so much so that Indianapolis’ 2.5-mile confines couldn’t contain Stewart. He slapped the turn four wall enough to scrape his car’s paint but not enough to do significant damage.
Stewart worked his way up to 26th when the yellow caution flag waved on lap 49. He and Grubb took the opportunity to come to pit road for the requisite four tires and fuel, but also so crew members could look at the damage and determine for sure that nothing was awry.
Although the encounter with the wall did nothing to hurt the Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy, its tight-handling condition persisted, especially whenever Stewart would get back in the throttle through the track’s sweeping, flat corners.
Grubb made a myriad of changes to the car, going so far as to raise the track bar three rounds and add a round of wedge to both rear corners during a pit stop on lap 81.
The tight-handling condition persisted, and when the caution flag waved again on lap 95, Stewart and Grubb took advantage by making another trip to pit road. But just as Stewart was turning into his pit stall, Kyle Busch – who had taken two tires in the pit stall behind Stewart – pulled out and ran into Stewart. The result was a dinged left-front fender for Stewart and bashed right-front fender for Busch. Both drivers had to return to pit road on the next lap so their respective pit crews could fix the damage.
“It’s a long pit road, but it’s a narrow pit road,” Stewart said. “I feel bad for Kyle and those guys because they had a good day going at that time, too. Just a rough day, but we fought for everything we could get.”
The fight continued after that pit road miscue left Stewart deep in the field, this time in 32nd when the race resumed on lap 118. At this point in the race, however, fuel mileage was becoming an issue, and teams like the No. 14 SHR squad could roll the dice.
Stewart needed track position, but he also needed at least another splash of fuel to make it to the full, 160-lap distance. Grubb keenly brought Stewart to pit road during the race’s final caution on lap 122 for a fuel-only stop. The strategy kicked Stewart up to 12th with 33 laps of green-flag racing remaining. But there was a catch – Stewart was a lap-and-a-half short on fuel under even the most optimistic scenario.
As other drivers pitted for fuel under green, Stewart worked his way up the leaderboard. He cracked the top-10 on lap 129 and then busted into the top-five on lap 132. With 27 laps to go he was third, and on lap 134 he was second. By lap 135, Stewart was in the lead for the first time.
The two-time Brickyard 400 winner paced the field for 10 laps and opened up a margin of nearly 14 seconds over his nearest pursuer, Brian Vickers. But even as Stewart worked to save fuel, the pace of the race and deeper calculations by Grubb hinted that Stewart was actually three laps short on fuel.
With 31 drivers on the lead lap, the gamble to go the distance was not worth it. Grubb called Stewart into the pits on lap 145, whereupon right-side tires were changed while precious gallons of fuel were added to Stewart’s tank.
The considerable lead Stewart had built prior to his pit stop paid off, for he returned to the track in 16th, still ahead of some drivers who had pitted under green before him.
Able to go all out while many ahead of him had to slow down and conserve fuel, Stewart again marched up the leaderboard. In the race’s last five laps, Stewart went from 15th to sixth as drivers in front of him either pitted for fuel, ran out of fuel or ran a pace so slow to conserve fuel that Stewart was able to blow by them.
“We ran those last 10 laps as hard as we could,” said Stewart, who won the Brickyard 400 in 2005 and 2007 and hails from nearby Columbus, Ind. “Come to find out we were three laps short, and there was no way we could make up three laps. A lap-and-a-half I think I could’ve done, but there was no way we could make up three. We inherited the lead anyway because we stayed out and everybody else in front of us came in, so we knew it was a borrowed lead. But it sure was nice to lead here at Indy again. We had to fight from the back a couple of different times to get up there.
“We just had a long, long hard day. To get almost a top-five out of this thing – running sixth was a good day for us. We did the right thing when we pitted and it paid off for us. We’ll take it.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for SHR and fellow Hoosier, as he grew up in South Bend, Ind., finished 12th to score his 12th top-15 finish of the season.
Paul Menard won the 18th annual Brickyard 400 to notch his first career Sprint Cup victory, and in doing so, became the fourth first-time winner of 2011, joining Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski and David Ragan.
“I’m really happy for Paul Menard,” Stewart said. “Paul’s been around this place (Indianapolis) for a long time. He’s been here since he was a kid. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy. That is a pretty deserving win, right there. I’m happy for him getting his first one that way.”
Jeff Gordon finished .725 of a second behind Menard in the runner-up spot, while Regan Smith, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Stewart, Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Keselowski and Busch comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 22 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish.
With round 20 of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He remained eighth and now has 618 points, 64 markers back of series leader Carl Edwards and 31 points ahead of 11th-place Denny Hamlin. Stewart gained two spots to climb to ninth. He now has 609 points, which puts him 73 points behind Edwards while giving him a 22-point cushion over Hamlin.
By: stewart-haas racing