Stewart’s Tight Car Leads to Top-20 at Bristol
Office Depot/Mobil 1 Driver Tied with Teammate for Third in Points
After three strong outings in the season’s first three races, Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 team of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) had high expectations heading to the high-banked, half-mile oval that is Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. But those expectations were brought back down to Earth when Stewart finished 19th in Sunday’s Jeff Byrd 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
“We just never really got the handling right during the race,” said Stewart, who managed to set quick time in practice on Saturday. “We felt good going into the race, and even though the car didn’t feel great at the start – like it was up on top of the racetrack – we were decent enough to run in the top-10.
“But it took awhile for the car to balance itself out. It just started off way too tight, and then when I’d come off the corner and go across where the rubber had built up, it was just too loose. We tried to adjust it, but at the end we were plowing tight. Pretty frustrating, really.”
Stewart started the 500-lap contest from 13th in the 43-car field and rose to as high as fourth after a savvy call by crew chief Darian Grubb for right-side tires only during the team’s first pit stop on lap 53. Stewart wasn’t able to stay in the top-five after the lap-57 restart, but he only dropped to ninth as his SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, led laps 58-83.
But as the event wore on, staying within the top-10 became a challenge. And with a blistering pace being set by the leaders that saw only 20 cars on the lead lap with 100 circuits remaining, staying on the lead lap became difficult.
Stewart went a lap down briefly, but a timely caution on lap 429 earned him the “lucky dog,” the free pass that goes to the first car one lap down. But with only 65 laps to go with the leaders turning 16-second lap times around the .533-mile oval, Stewart and his ill-handling racecar were in no position to make any gains. They finished 19th, the last car on the lead lap.
Newman, driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for SHR, finished 10th to notch his third top-10 finish of 2011 and his 11th top-10 in 19 career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol.
Kyle Busch won the Jeff Byrd 500 to score his 20th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his fifth at Bristol. Busch has won five consecutive NASCAR events at Bristol. He won yesterday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race, and last August swept the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races.
Carl Edwards finished .946 of a second behind Busch in the runner-up spot, while Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five. Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 57 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish.
With round four of 36 complete, Stewart and Newman are tied for third in the Sprint Cup championship point standings. Each driver has 138 points and is 12 markers back of leader Kurt Busch.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the March 27 Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where Stewart is the series’ most recent winner.