Smoke Rises From Phoenix; Stewart Finishes Second to Score Best Finish for Stewart-Haas Racing Tony Stewart inched ever closer to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory as a driver/owner after finishing a season-best second in Saturday ...
Smoke Rises From Phoenix; Stewart Finishes Second to Score Best Finish for Stewart-Haas Racing
Tony Stewart inched ever closer to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory as a driver/owner after finishing a season-best second in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS also earned the best finish to date for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), the two-car team Stewart co-owns with Oxnard, Calif.-based Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the western world.
"I'm just happy for everybody from Office Depot, Old Spice and Haas Automation that believed in me when I had this idea of starting this deal last year," said Stewart, who led once for a total 19 laps in the 312-lap race, bringing his season total to 53 laps led. "We're getting there, man. I'm telling you, we're so close. We're going to get us a win here soon. We're not going to let our fans down."
Stewart finished .734 of a second behind race winner Mark Martin, who had the dominant car in the event, as he led five times for a race-high 157 laps.
"I don't think there's anybody that's not a Mark Martin fan," said Stewart, who saw plenty of Martin throughout the race as a mainstay among the top-five. "It was an awesome night for our organization and an awesome night for Mark. Nobody works harder to stay in shape to be good and fit and ready to go than Mark does. And when you see somebody that works that hard at it, you like to see the results come for him, too."
Martin's 36th career Sprint Cup win was a popular one, not just for the fans, but for those who he competes with on the racetrack.
"Mark was responsible for so many of us learning what it took to be a Sprint Cup driver," explained Stewart, who sought Martin's tutelage when he first began driving stock cars in 2006. "When you came up in the Nationwide Series and ran with him when he just dominated, he taught you a lot while you were running those races. And when you had a good day against Mark, when you did things right and you watched him and learned from him -- that just accelerated the learning curve to get you ready for the Sprint Cup Series. Mark has taught us all a lot about what it takes to be not only a good driver in this series, but a good competitor and somebody that everybody respects."
Finishing second to the 50-year-old Martin took the sting out of not winning, but so did earning his third straight top-five finish and his fifth top-10 result in the eight races run thus far in 2009.
"This is the best start to the season that I've ever had in my career," Stewart said. "The last three weeks have just been amazing. I mean, it's been so much fun. We've been in contention. We've led laps. We're doing everything right. It's just a matter of time. We are consistent now and that's the way you've got to be. We're just clicking them off one at a time here. I don't think any of us would have predicted we would be in the top-five in points."
And that's just where Stewart is. His runner-up effort at Phoenix bumped him up one spot to fourth in the championship standings, and combined with a 25th-place finish by series leader Jeff Gordon at Phoenix, Stewart lopped 87 points off the advantage held by Gordon to close to within 104 points of the four-time Sprint Cup champion.
Stewart's SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, soldiered to a 16th-place finish after dealing with radio communication issues throughout the Subway Fresh Fit 500k. The driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS maintained his 17th-place position in the standings, where he is 379 points out of first, but only 83 points out of 12th -- the cutoff position for the Chase for the Championship, which will be determined following the 26th race of the year at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
Finishing third was Kurt Busch, while Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann, Sam Hornish Jr., and Carl Edwards comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for 29 laps, with four drivers failing to finish the race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the April 26 Aaron's 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway