STEWART FINISHES SEVENTH AT PHOENIX
Office Depot/Mobil 1 Driver Leads Four Times for 59 Laps En Route to Top-10 Finish
With 25 laps to go in Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway, Tony Stewart appeared poised to grab his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season and the 40th of his career. He was leading after a strategic two-tire pit stop under green vaulted him from third to first, and with plenty of daylight between him and his pursuers, Stewart could simply wheel his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala to the checkered flag.
When the green flag dropped for the final restart on lap 291, it took less than a lap around the 1-mile oval for Kyle Busch to make his way past Stewart. Soon enough, Jeff Gordon went by, then Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Stewart's SHR teammate Ryan Newman and, finally, Kasey Kahne.
When the checkered flag dropped on lap 312, Stewart was seventh -- a tough pill to swallow after leading four times for 59 laps.
"Once that caution came out, we were done," said Stewart, who started the race from 18th in the 43-car field. "The two tires gave us good track position, but we took them under green and once that caution came out there at the end, any advantage we had was gone."
It was Stewart's 10th top-10 finish in 19 career Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix and his first top-10 finish of 2011.
Newman's rally to fifth brightened the day somewhat for Stewart, for it put both SHR cars in the top-10. The last time both SHR cars finished in the top-10 came in last year's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Newman finished seventh, while Stewart was eighth.
Newman now has three straight top-five finishes at Phoenix, dating back to his victory in this race a year ago where he piloted his No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala to his 14th career Sprint Cup win.
Jeff Gordon won the Subway Fresh Fit 500k to score his 83rd career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at Phoenix. The victory ended a 66-race winless streak for the four-time Sprint Cup champion, as his last victory came on April 5, 2009 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Gordon is now tied with Cale Yarborough for fifth on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series all-time win list.
Kyle Busch finished 1.137 seconds behind Gordon in the runner-up spot, while Johnson, Harvick and Newman rounded out the top-five. Kahne, Stewart, Kurt Busch, A.J. Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 43 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 312-lap race.
With round two of 36 complete, Stewart jumped from 12th in the Sprint Cup championship standings into a tie for third with Allmendinger. Stewart and Allmendinger each have 69 points and are 11 markers behind series leader Kyle Busch. Newman gained 12 spots to climb to seventh in the standings where he is tied with Bobby Labonte and Juan Pablo Montoya. Each has 64 points, 16 back of Kyle Busch.
Kyle Busch leads his older brother, Kurt, by three points, marking the first time since February 1988 that family members occupy the top two spots in the standings. Following the 1988 Daytona 500, Bobby Allison had the top spot while his son, the late Davey Allison, was second.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the March 6 Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.