Tony Stewart drove his No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet to a seventh-place finish in Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. And while not a victory, it was the type of outing Stewart had expected since...
Tony Stewart drove his No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet to a seventh-place finish in Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. And while not a victory, it was the type of outing Stewart had expected since dropping out of the top-10 in points last weekend at New Hampshire.
The seventh-place effort moved Stewart up one spot to 10th in the championship point standings, 462 markers arrears series leader Jimmie Johnson, fortifying the "recovery weekend" Stewart said he needed following his 13th place qualifying run on Friday.
But climbing back into the top-10 in points on Pocono's 2.5-mile triangle was no easy feat.
On lap 33, Stewart was running outside of rookie Clint Bowyer through turn three when Bowyer's car pushed out toward the wall. Stewart gave as much ground as he could, scraping the wall with the right side of his orange and black Chevrolet. As he came off the wall, Stewart made contact with Bowyer, sending Bowyer's No. 07 Chevrolet into Carl Edwards' No. 99 Ford.
As Bowyer and Edwards spun, Stewart motored on - but not for long.
NASCAR penalized Stewart one lap for aggressive driving, putting the two-time and reigning Nextel Cup champion 41st in the 43-car field.
Penalty served and back on the race track, Stewart got down to business. Despite restarting 41st, Stewart was right next to race leader Ryan Newman as the first car one lap down. Stewart needed just four laps to pass Newman and get back on the lead lap. Once he found clean air, Stewart began putting distance between himself and the leaders, needing a caution flag to get back in the mix.
He got that caution 30 laps later, when Kyle Petty cut a tire and hit the turn one wall on lap 66. But upon coming to the pits for service that would help fix his tight race car, Stewart was hit from behind by Edwards and spun on pit road. That move earned Edwards the same penalty Stewart had received earlier - being held one lap in the pits for aggressive driving - and caused some light damage to the right rear corner of Stewart's Home Depot machine.
"I apologize for the penalty," Stewart told his team over the radio following two more stops to repair the damage. "I'll get it back for us today."
Another caution for debris on lap 77 caused a slight delay, but Stewart got busy when the green flag waved again on lap 80. From that point on, he began clicking off positions. Over the next 11 laps he grabbed seven spots to climb to 18th. Following another caution for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crash on lap 89, Stewart pitted again for another adjustment and returned to the track in 14th. Four laps later, he was in the top-10.
Stewart ran in the top-10 for the rest of the race, the only exception being his last pit stop with 25 laps remaining. He restarted in 18th after taking four tires, and used the fresh rubber to advance all the way to seventh at the finish.
"This was about as good as we were all day," said Stewart, who seventh-place effort was his fifth such result at Pocono. "It was an awesome job by Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) and the guys had awesome stops all day long getting us back to the front there. I just wish we wouldn't have had to race that hard that early in the race to have to get ourselves in position to do that."
At the end of the day, Stewart and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team were back in the top-10 with five races left before the Chase for the Championship - and their title defense - begins Sept. 14 at New Hampshire.
"I never doubted we'd be back in the top-10 one week after we got out," said Stewart. "I'm not worried about it. Everybody else seems to be more worried about the top-10 than we are because we know we're a top-10 team. We just need to do what we did today and keep digging and we'll be where we need to be at the end."
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished first and 11th, respectively. Hamlin, who earned a season sweep at Pocono by winning both races from the pole, led 151 laps and rose four spots to eighth in points. Yeley gained one position to claim 26th.
Kurt Busch finished second, while Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Kevin Harvick secured the rest of the top-five. Johnson, Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton and Martin Truex Jr. comprised the remainder of the top 10.
The Nextel Cup Series takes a weekend off before heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Aug. 6 Brickyard 400. The race starts at 2:40 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC.