Rain Thwarts Stewart'S Bid For Daytona 500 Victory; Eighth-Place Finish Culminates Strong Daytona Speedweeks Performance When eighth-place is your worst finish among the four races you've competed in during the 11 days that make up Speedweeks...
Rain Thwarts Stewart'S Bid For Daytona 500 Victory; Eighth-Place Finish Culminates Strong Daytona Speedweeks Performance
When eighth-place is your worst finish among the four races you've competed in during the 11 days that make up Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, you can hold your head high. And when you earn that eighth-place finish in a backup racecar after your primary racecar was crashed in the final practice session leading into the season's biggest race, your accomplishment is even more impressive.
Such was the case for Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
In his first point-paying race as a driver/owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Stewart started the 51st Daytona 500 in fifth, led 15 laps and contended for the win until rain forced NASCAR officials to call the race after 152 of the scheduled 200 laps were completed, or 380 of the 500 scheduled miles. Running eighth when the rains came, it would be where Stewart finished once NASCAR officials declared the race over.
"Obviously, I would've have liked to have seen the race get back to green," said Stewart, who finished third in the non-point Budweiser Shootout Feb. 7, second in his Gatorade Duel qualifying race on Thursday and first in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday. "I felt like we were a lot better than an eighth-place car, but there were guys ahead of us that were eighth-place cars that got wrecked. To leave here with a third, second and an eighth in my own cars and a win in the Nationwide Series with Rick Hendrick, I can't say it's really that disappointing."
Beyond the strong finishes, the work that went into making Daytona Speedweeks a successful one for SHR was impressive. Never mind that everything needed to get to Daytona was new, and the extraordinary effort it took to prepare a team filled with new personnel and new equipment for the season-opening event. Once the team unloaded Stewart's No. 14 machine and the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevy of teammate Ryan Newman, the entire SHR organization absorbed a heavy workload.
After placing both cars within the top-10 during Daytona 500 time trials last Sunday -- with Newman and Stewart logging the third and 10th-fastest times, respectively, around the 2.5-mile oval -- SHR saw its share of adversity.
On Wednesday, the engine in Newman's car broke, forcing the No. 39 team to the rear of the field for its Gatorade Duel qualifying race. And in that race, Newman got punted into the backstretch wall, destroying his primary racecar and forcing him to a backup. On Saturday during final practice, a right-rear tire blew on the No. 39, ripping the entire quarterpanel off the U.S. Army Chevrolet and sending Newman spinning into the path of Stewart. Both cars were too damaged to be repaired, with Newman needing yet another backup car and Stewart being forced to use the car he drove to a third-place finish in the Budweiser Shootout. Making matters even more stressful heading into the Great American Race was that Stewart only got about 10 minutes of track time in his new ride before the Daytona 500 while Newman received none.
"I'm just really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas -- all the guys back at the shop and everybody on the Office Depot/Old Spice and U.S. Army team for all the hurdles we had to cross this week," Stewart said. "I think we have a lot of potential, obviously.
"We just have to get poor Ryan hooked up right now. That's the part I am disappointed with. It's nothing of anybody's doing -- they just had bad luck this week. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure we get that turned around for California and Vegas. I'm proud of Tony Gibson (crew chief, No. 39) and Ryan and Darian Grubb (crew chief, No. 14), Bobby Hutchens (director of competition) and all the guys that came down here and helped to get two cars ready. Considering we lost three cars and an engine -- to still have a car finish in the top-10 -- you can't be that disappointed.
"I think the thing I'm most proud of is not the third-place run or the second-place run or the Nationwide win. It's coming back from the infield care center on Saturday and seeing all the guys and seeing their attitudes and how hard they worked to get us out again before the end of final practice, and how hard Ryan's crew worked to get their car ready, too. It's not what you would typically think you would be most proud of, but that's what stands out in my mind as the highlight of the week, and just showing me when we have adversity, what kind of guys we have and how dedicated they are to making it right."
Stewart leads the SHR driver lineup in the championship point race, as his eighth-place finish combined with the five bonus earned for leading a lap slotted him seventh in the standings. After round one of 36, Stewart is 43 points behind series leader and Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth. Newman is 36th in the standings, 135 points out of first.
There were eight caution periods for 35 laps, with four drivers failing to finish the rain-shortened race. It marked only the fourth time the Daytona 500 has been cut short by rain.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Feb. 22 Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.