Momentum from Martinsville Continues at Texas; Stewart Scores Second Straight Top-Five Finish and Climbs to Fifth in Points After scoring his career best finish as a driver/owner in last weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville ...
Momentum from Martinsville Continues at Texas; Stewart Scores Second Straight Top-Five Finish and Climbs to Fifth in Points
After scoring his career best finish as a driver/owner in last weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Tony Stewart was poised to improve upon that third-place effort with a win in Sunday's Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) led four times for 16 laps on the 1.5-mile Texas oval, and with 25 laps remaining in the 334-lap race, had a shot at scoring that much-desired victory. But when the checkered flag dropped, Stewart was the fourth driver across the stripe. It wasn't a win, but it was his ninth top-10 finish in 15 career Sprint Cup starts at Texas.
Just seven races into the season -- and seven races into Stewart's dual role as driver and owner with SHR since saying goodbye to his 10-year Sprint Cup tenure as a driver with Joe Gibbs Racing -- Stewart is solidly fifth in the championship point standings with two consecutive top-five results and a total of five top-10 finishes.
"The car owner is happy, the driver is ticked off," said Stewart, who started the race seventh and upon cracking the top-five in less than 20 laps, never fell out of the top-five. "I wanted to win this thing. I felt like we had a shot at it and we did. We were good all day, and we were good all weekend here -- just have to figure out some little things to make it quicker earlier in the day and earlier in the run.
"We were really fast from the 30-or-so-lap mark to the end of the run. We'd run those guys down right at the end when it was time to come in and pit. We just couldn't take off like we wanted to. We just couldn't get it to take off and be good like we wanted at the beginning of a run, but at the end we were fast."
Perhaps nowhere was this more noticeable than in the race's final restart on lap 309. Stewart was in second with race leader Jeff Gordon directly out his front windshield, while Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, was in Stewart's rearview mirror in third.
With Gordon motoring ahead, it took Johnson just one lap to get past Stewart and give chase to his teammate. Stewart then tried to hold onto third before Greg Biffle caught him on the frontstretch just off the exit of turn four with two laps to go.
"We were really fast when the track was at its warmest and everybody else was sliding around -- that is when we were at our best, but we just couldn't take off on the short runs," Stewart said. "We just needed long runs. That is when we were the fastest. We weren't a short-run car by any means, but we'd get about 30-35 laps on our tires and we were the fastest car on the track. We just could never get it to take off and be really quick like the No. 24 (Gordon), No. 48 (Johnson) and the No. 16 (Biffle)."
Even while displaying such a tenacious drive, Stewart still managed to multitask by serving as car owner during a few early caution periods.
"Our guys had a couple rough spots on pit road in the beginning, so I just calmed them down, told them to take a deep breath and just slow down a little bit," said Stewart, recounting his radio conversations with the team. "They had great stops the rest of the day. I am proud of those guys, they rebounded really well. Everybody on this Old Spice/Office Depot Chevy team did a great job today and kept diggin'."
Stewart's teammate at SHR, Ryan Newman, drove his No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS to a solid 15th-place finish. It was Newman's third consecutive top-15 run after coming home seventh and sixth, respectively, at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Martinsville.
Stewart continues to lead the SHR driver lineup in the championship point race via his fifth-place standing, gaining two positions since the previous race at Martinsville. Newman gained one spot and now sits 17th in the standings. Stewart is 191 markers arrears series leader Gordon and Newman is 411 points out of first.
There were six caution periods for 30 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 500-mile race.
The Sprint Cup Series takes a weekend off in honor of Easter before heading to Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., for the April 18 Subway Fresh Fit 500k.