Tony Stewart proved to be rock-solid in the Granite State, as the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) finished seventh in the Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Stewart drove from his third-place starting spot and into the lead just four laps into the 300-lap contest around the 1.058-mile oval and paced the field for the next 38 laps before a caution on lap 42 sent everyone to pit road.
“Little tight in the center, little loose off” was a familiar refrain from Stewart on the radio as he described his car’s handling through the corners, banked at a scant 12 degrees.
No set of adjustments seemed to cure the car’s handling woes, but some of the troubleshooting by crew chief Steve Addington allowed Stewart to either start a run strong or finish a long, green-flag run with competitive lap times.
This was evident in the race’s final moments. With only 22 laps remaining following the race’s final caution period, Stewart rallied from 10th to seventh, passing SHR teammate Ryan Newman for ninth on lap 279, Brian Vickers for eighth on lap 285 and Joey Logano for seventh on lap 289.
The seventh-place run gave Stewart his 14th top-10 result of 2012 and his 17th top-10 in 28 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire.
“It might’ve been a solid result, but we need to be better than that,” said Stewart, who has three Sprint Cup wins at New Hampshire (July 2000, July 2005 and September 2011).
Newman, driver of the No. 39 Aspen Dental Chevrolet for SHR, finished 10th. It was his 11th top-10 finish of 2012 and his 15th top-10 in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire.
The Sylvania 300 marked the third straight race and the ninth time this season that Stewart and Newman have finished in the top-10 together.
Denny Hamlin won the Sylvania 300 to score his 22nd career Sprint Cup victory, his series-high fifth of the season and his second at New Hampshire.
It also marked the 100th points-paying Sprint Cup victory for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). Stewart is responsible for 33 of those wins, as he competed in Sprint Cup for JGR from 1999 through 2008 before becoming a driver/owner with SHR.
Jimmie Johnson finished 2.675 seconds behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Stewart, Logano, Vickers and Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were four caution periods for 17 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish.
Stewart is representing SHR in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and entered the second race of the 10-race Chase in third place among the 12 Chase drivers, eight points behind Chase leader Keselowski.
Stewart leaves New Hampshire fourth in the standings, 10 points behind new Chase leader Johnson.
Newman remained 14th in the standings with 807 points, 24 back of 13th-place Kyle Busch.
Source: Stewart-Hass Racing (SHR)