STEWART TRAVELS A LONG WAY TO FINISH 13TH AT ATLANTA Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Overcomes Numerous Obstacles in Kobalt Tools 500 A 13th-place finish has never been something Tony Stewart has crowed about, and his result in Sunday's Kobalt ...
STEWART TRAVELS A LONG WAY TO FINISH 13TH AT ATLANTA
Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Overcomes Numerous Obstacles in Kobalt Tools 500
A 13th-place finish has never been something Tony Stewart has crowed about, and his result in Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was no different. Yet achieving this 13th-place finish was different, for Stewart had to come from the back of the 43-car field while managing his tires and dodging numerous late-race accidents. In fact, so much was packed into this race that it needed nearly 25 extra miles to complete, as it took two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to finally end what turned out to be a 341-lap race.
"Long day," said Stewart, who despite qualifying 15th had to start at the back of the 43-car field after his team changed engines following final practice on Saturday. "The tire deal kind of made the racing old school. You had to take care of your tires at the front of a run to make sure you still had tires at the end of the run. You could never run 100 percent. You really had to manage your equipment."
The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) rallied his way into the top-10 less than 40 laps into the race. It was an impressive feat not only for the amount of positions gained in such a short time, but also because he did it with tires that quickly became worn thanks to the rigors of racing at Atlanta's 1.54-mile oval.
Competitors were finding that their right-front tires would blister if they pushed them too hard, and hardly anyone had a set of tires that could last more than 40 laps, never mind a full fuel run. The tire wear Stewart encountered ran the gamut from mild to mashed, for if he had the opportunity to take care of his tires, the inside edge of his right-front would blister only slightly. But if the racing conditions forced him to really push, the loads placed on the tires, specifically the right-front, could not endure.
That was exactly the case on lap 190 when Stewart had to make an unscheduled pit stop for a flat right-front tire. He had been running seventh, but the stop, which happened under green, dropped him to 28th.
All was not lost, however, for as long as the race stayed green, everyone else would have to pit for tires. Even with the unscheduled pit stop, if all of Stewart's competitors hit pit road eventually, everyone would cycle through, meaning that Stewart's lost track position would be only temporary.
As luck would have it, that's the way it played out. The yellow caution flag never waved, and as drivers ducked onto pit road, Stewart earned his lap back, and then methodically ticked his way up the leaderboard, rising to as high as third on lap 214.
"The balance wasn't bad, but I just couldn't run hard and keep the tires underneath it" said Stewart, who scored victories at Atlanta in March 2002 and October 2006.
As a result, Stewart slowly fell toward 10th, but he didn't drop out of the top-10 until lap 288 when the caution flag waved and he was 12th. From there to the finish, a series of cautions meant a series of restarts, and, unfortunately, the Office Depot/Old Spice machine couldn't take off as well as it counterparts. By lap 300, Stewart was in 14th. Seven laps later, though, he was a lot worse off.
A loose wheel sent Stewart to the pits for another unscheduled stop on lap 307. He emerged in 30th, and it seemed a dismal finish was all but guaranteed. Yet two separate multi-car accidents that collected a total of nine cars in the race's final 17 laps allowed Stewart to claw his way to a respectable 13th-place finish.
Stewart's SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet, finished 17th after enduring a similarly long day. He also had to start at the back, for his team made an engine change early Sunday morning, nullifying his seventh-place qualifying effort.
Kurt Busch won the Kobalt Tools 500 to score his 21st career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Atlanta.
Matt Kenseth finished .482 of a second behind Busch, while Juan Pablo Montoya, Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five. A.J. Allmendinger, Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Scott Speed comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 53 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 341-lap race, which was extended 16 laps past its scheduled distance due to the green-white-checkered finish.
With round four of 36 complete, Stewart is eighth in the Sprint Cup championship standings. He gained three positions and now has 510 points, 134 markers behind series leader Harvick. Newman rose three spots to 29th in the standings. He has 337 points and is 307 points back of Harvick.
The Sprint Cup Series takes a rare weekend off before heading to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for the March 21 Food City 500.