Stewart Solid In Driver/Owner Debut; Old Spice/Office Depot Driver Leads Laps, Finishes Third in Budweiser Shootout It took Tony Stewart just 13 laps to lead for the first time as a driver/owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Stewart, driver...
Stewart Solid In Driver/Owner Debut; Old Spice/Office Depot Driver Leads Laps, Finishes Third in Budweiser Shootout
It took Tony Stewart just 13 laps to lead for the first time as a driver/owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), led laps 13-16 en route to a solid third-place finish in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
The Budweiser Shootout is an exhibition race featuring the top-six cars from each of the four manufacturers -- Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge and Toyota -- along with a wild card entry from each manufacturer that goes to a past champion. If no past champion, the manufacturer's seventh-highest placing car in 2008 car owner points earns a starting berth. This year's field included an event-record 28 drivers, with Stewart nailing down his starting spot thanks to his 2005 Sprint Cup championship.
"I'll take that for a debut night," said Stewart, a three-time winner of the non-point Budweiser Shootout. "It wasn't the prettiest third-place, but we were in the right spot at the right time. We know what we need to work on for the Daytona 500, and now we have a good start on it."
Stewart's third-place finish was his fourth consecutive top-three finish in the Budweiser Shootout and his eighth top-five in 10 Shootout appearances.
"I had fun all night," Stewart said. "I was real comfortable with the car. I'm excited because I know our 500 car is better than this one. I think we know what areas we need to work on Wednesday and what we will concentrate on Thursday. That will give us a really big gauge for what want to do on Friday and Saturday. I'm excited about it. We have a direction and we got the first one out of the way. Everybody has the cobwebs knocked out of them. It was an awesome debut for Old Spice and Office Depot."
Stewart managed to dodge seven accidents throughout the 78-lap race, which was extended three laps past its scheduled distance due to a green-white-checkered finish, and made a stirring drive during the final green flag run. After David Stremme and Greg Biffle were involved in an accident on lap 74, Stewart, who was outside the top-10, pitted for four fresh tires and restarted the race in 15th-place.
NASCAR officials announced the race would conclude via a green-white-checkered finish, so when the green flag came out for the final time on lap 76, Stewart knew he had only two laps to get to the front. During the two-lap sprint around the 2.5-mile oval, he managed to pick up 12 spots and dodge a final lap accident on the backstretch that involved four cars.
"We restarted there in the back on that last run and got near the front in a couple of laps," Stewart said. "We got that run and we were able to pick which line we wanted. We got the one out of three lines that moved, so it worked out for us."
Despite coming up two spots short of victory in his first race as a driver/owner, Stewart was still pleased to lead laps and work with his new team.
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't excited," Stewart said. "I guess it wasn't really until the caution came out and we were already back to ninth or 10th. It was like, 'We just led the first race we were in.' That is a big moment for anybody. Anybody that takes on a big undertaking like this, the first time you lead a race -- especially the first race out of the box and lead it in the first 20 laps -- that is something to really be proud of.
"I was really happy with our Hendrick engine, and I was very, very impressed with Darian Grubb (crew chief) and the crew tonight. It doesn't even feel like it was our first race together. It was like we carried on from something else. It was a great night for Old Spice and Office Depot."
Stewart's SHR teammate -- Ryan Newman -- was forced to look on from the No. 14 team's pit box, as his switch from Dodge to Chevrolet for 2009 precluded him from this year's race.
Kevin Harvick won the Budweiser Shootout to score his first victory since the 2007 Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte. Jamie McMurray finished second, while Stewart, Jeff Gordon and A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Next up for SHR is Daytona 500 qualifying, where Stewart and Newman, driver of the team's No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS, will be among 56 drivers going for the pole for the 51st annual Daytona 500.