Stewart Earns Seventh-Place Finish at Michigan; Office Depot/Mobil 1 Driver Scores Sixth Top-10 of Season
For Tony Stewart and his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala team, Sunday’s Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn was an exercise in patience and perseverance.
Despite having an ill-handling racecar for the first half of the 200-lap race around the 2-mile oval, Stewart and his crew refused to give up and were relentless in their pursuit of a solid finish. And when the checkered flag dropped, the team’s efforts were rewarded with a seventh-place finish and their sixth top-10 finish of 2011
“I’m just proud of Darian Grubb (crew chief) and all the Office Depot/Mobil 1 guys,” said Stewart, who now has 17 top-10 finishes in 25 career Sprint Cup starts at Michigan. “They did an awesome job. We weren’t very good at the beginning of it, but we kept working at it, kept making changes, and got us a lot better there at the end. We just needed track position to get further forward.”
Stewart started sixth in the 43-car field and within five laps had moved into the runner-up position. He told his crew that his car was a little free on both ends of the track from center to exit. When the caution flag waved at lap eight, Stewart brought his car to the attention of his crew for right-side tires and fuel. He returned to the track in fifth place for the lap-11 restart.
While Stewart was able to maintain his spot among the top five, the car was not quite to his liking. He told his crew that the Office Depot/Mobil 1 machine was still really loose on exit, and still a little loose on entry. He also noted that the car’s right-rear tire didn’t feel like it was working the way it should.
Under the caution flag at lap 27, the pit crew opted to make several adjustments to the No. 14 Chevy in hopes of helping the car’s handling issues. The crew changed four tires, added fuel and made wedge and air pressure adjustments. Stewart returned to the track in 11th place.
But once again, the changes to the racecar didn’t go far enough. Stewart was battling a car that was tight in the center and loose off in both corners. He continued to say that it felt like the car’s right-rear tire wasn’t working in the racetrack. Stewart dropped back to 16th place before the caution flag waved at lap 84.
Under the caution, Stewart urged Grubb to take a big swing with his adjustments. “We’ve got to take a swing at this thing,” he said. “We’ve got to make it a whole lot better.”
Grubb told his driver not to worry, as they planned major adjustments. The crew added a spring rubber to the right rear, made wedge and air pressure adjustments and added four tires and fuel. Stewart restarted in 21st place at lap 88.
While he lost several positions on pit road due to the major adjustments, Stewart told his crew not to worry as he would get them back. And by lap 100, Stewart appeared to be making his move at getting back the lost spots as he was posted in 17th place.
With the No. 14 car suddenly coming to life, Stewart was patiently picking his way through the field. By lap 150, he was running in 13th place with green flag pit stops coming up. While many of the other cars on the lead lap pitted, Stewart was still on track when a caution flag waved at lap 158 with the No. 14 in eighth place.
Stewart pitted for four tires and fuel, and the crew also added tape to the grill. He returned to the track in eighth place for the restart at lap 163. While the team felt that Stewart could go the remainder of the race distance on fuel, Grubb reminded his driver to save fuel as best he could.
Stewart once again began making his way through the field and moved into fourth place when the final caution flag of the day waved at lap 191.
Grubb opted to bring Stewart down pit road one final time for right-side tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. He returned to the track in fifth place for the final restart of the day. Unfortunately, Stewart’s No. 14 machine was too tight on two tires, and he could not gain any additional spots in the closing laps. He wound up seventh.
“I’ll take it, and I really can’t complain,” Stewart said. “We had to take some pretty big swings at it today. Really proud of Darian and all the guys on the Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy team. They did a really good job of just staying with it and kept fighting. We kept working our way back up, and at the end there we were on the same strategy that everybody else was. We were just a little bit tighter on the restart than we were before.”
Stewart-Haas Racing’s (SHR) Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army 236th Birthday Chevrolet Impala honoring NASCAR Hall of Famer Bud Moore, finished sixth. It was Newman’s eighth top-10 finish of 2011 and his sixth top-10 in 20 career Sprint Cup starts at Michigan.
Denny Hamlin won the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 to score his 17th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at Michigan.
Matt Kenseth finished .281 of a second behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Newman, Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin and Brian Vickers comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 18 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish
With round 15 of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He gained two spots and now sits eighth with 456 points, 76 markers back of series leader Edwards. Despite his solid run at Michigan, Stewart lost two spots and now sits 11th with 454 points, 78 markers back of the top spot.