The best way to get over a bad race is to go out and have a good one. Tony Stewart did just that with his eighth-place finish in the Subway Fresh Fit 500k on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Putting aside last week’s heartbreaking finish in the Daytona 500, the driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) performed solidly at Phoenix while earning his 12th top-10 in 23 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1-mile oval. And he also learned a few things on which the team hopes to capitalize as the season progresses.
The race was just the second start for NASCAR’s new sixth-generation Sprint Cup car, so there was much information to be gained to shorten the learning curve for teams’ 2013 programs.
The No. 14 team was one of only a handful to take four tires during their first stop – a decision which placed it in 20th place in the early stages of the race.
The decision to take only right-side tires during a later caution placed three-time Sprint Cup champion Stewart back in the top-five shortly after the lap-100 mark in the race.
While the team would experience a little more back and forth, it wound up on the plus side of the chess match as the laps wound down.
“Track position was everything today,” Stewart said. “You could still pass, but it was harder to pass the further back you were. So it was just a matter of where you cycled on the pit stops as far as when everybody figured out you had to take two tires or four, and then figuring out where in the cycle you were and whether you could get back the track position.
When we got up to the top three or four there, we had good speed. But when you got hemmed up in the back there, it was hard to make up that ground.
“It will change as the season goes on,” Stewart said, referencing the Gen-6 car. “I think for the first real race, it’s pretty sporty so far.”
Stewart’s SHR teammates each had their day end early in separate incidents that resulted from similar issues. Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for SHR, finished 40th after having two separate right-front tire issues, which both resulted in contact with the outside wall. The damage from the second incident was too much for Newman to return to the racetrack.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for SHR, experienced the same issue on lap 186 when her right-front tire blew and sent her car hard into the outside wall while running 26th. She finished the day 39th in what was her 12th career Sprint Cup start but only her second at Phoenix.
Carl Edwards won the Subway Fresh Fit 500k to break a 70-race winless streak. His last victory came March 6, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Today’s win marked the 20th Sprint Cup victory of his career and his second at Phoenix.
Five-time Sprint Cup champion and reigning Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson finished 1.024 seconds behind Edwards in the runner-up spot, while Denny Hamlin, reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 43 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 316-lap race, which was extended four laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
With round two of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is 20th, 46 points behind series leader Johnson. Patrick stands 22nd, 48 points out of first. Stewart is 23rd, 51 points behind Johnson.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 23 spots behind Stenhouse (16th).