"NEW LEADER... THE 14" Second at Dover Puts Stewart First in Championship Point Standings Tony Stewart drove his No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS from 31st to second in Sunday's Autism Speaks 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race...
"NEW LEADER... THE 14"
Second at Dover Puts Stewart First in Championship Point Standings
Tony Stewart drove his No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS from 31st to second in Sunday's Autism Speaks 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. And with his sixth top-five finish of the season -- a number which includes three runner-up results -- the first-year driver/owner of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) took the lead in the championship point standings. It marks the first time a driver/owner has led the points since Alan Kulwicki beat Bill Elliott for the championship on Nov. 15, 1992 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a span of 556 races.
"It's been a dream season for us up to this point, and you hope that you don't wake up tomorrow and all of a sudden realize that we're just getting ready to go to Daytona or something and it's all been a dream," said Stewart, who has a 46-point lead over his nearest championship pursuer, Jeff Gordon, after 13 of 36 races. "I'm proud of our entire organization. To get caught up like we had to do through the winter with the personnel changes and updating equipment and everything, it just took a lot to get everything ready for Daytona, let alone to keep it ready and keep us going each week. I mean, we probably all lost bets that at this point we would be this far along. But it's a good bet to lose, I guess."
Advancing into the point lead came by way of Stewart advancing his way through the 43-car field. After a disappointing qualifying performance on Friday that left Stewart 31st on the starting grid, the 11-year Sprint Cup veteran had to pick his way toward the front. He did just that, slicing his way to 16th by lap 60 and cracking the top-15 five laps later with a pass of Bobby Labonte.
When green flag pit stops began to occur on lap 109 of the 400-lap race, Stewart was running in 13th. He and crew chief Darian Grubb decided to wait out the cycle as long as they could, knowing that a timely caution would allow them to leapfrog anyone who had already pitted. That caution came on lap 116 when the yellow flag waved for debris. After a standard four-tire change, Stewart restarted in fifth when the race resumed on lap 123.
"We needed that," said Grubb. "We could only go another six laps on fuel."
With good track position and tenacious driving, Stewart rose to fourth after a decisive pass of Kyle Busch on lap 156.
The caution came out again on lap 165, where another four-tire pit stop took place. This one was a tick on the slow side, as Stewart lost five spots and had to restart in ninth. It seemed of little matter after a few green flag laps of racing, for Stewart quickly picked off two cars to rise to seventh.
But as more laps clicked off the board and more rubber was laid down on the 1-mile oval, Stewart's No. 14 machine became loose through the track's corners. He dropped all the way to 13th before a caution period allowed him to come to pit road. Once there, Grubb called for a track bar adjustment that would plant the rear of the Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy down onto the racetrack. The change worked, as Stewart methodically began working his way back toward the front, breaking into the top-10 for a second time on lap 314 after passing Reed Sorenson.
On Stewart's second to last stop during a caution on lap 332, the crew got Stewart in and out so quickly that they gained their boss an incredible three positions, putting Stewart in seventh-place when racing resumed on lap 335.
Stewart was sixth when the caution flag waved on lap 363. With less than 40 laps remaining and plenty of fuel to go the distance, a call had to be made -- stay out and maintain track position or come to pit road for either two tires or four tires. As soon as the cars ahead of Stewart ducked onto pit road, Stewart came too. Grubb decided on a two-tire, no fuel strategy, and it got Stewart back onto the racetrack in second-place when the green flag dropped.
"It was the perfect call," added Stewart after the race. "We decided to take a gamble. We were going to stay out, and then Darian called us at the last minute to do two (tires). We weren't that fast a car, but it got us the track position we needed."
From there, Stewart took off after race leader and two-time Dover winner Greg Biffle. Stewart caught him on lap 392 to take the lead, but charging behind Stewart and Biffle was three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson juked through lapped traffic with five laps to go to breathe down Stewart's neck. His persistence paid off, as Johnson took the lead from Stewart on the penultimate lap and held on to take his fourth win at Dover, his second of the season and the 42nd of his Sprint Cup career by .861 of a second over Stewart.
"You had three guys racing for the lead inside 10 laps to go. I don't know how it gets much more exciting than that," said Stewart, who now has 10 top-five finishes in 21 career Sprint Cup starts at Dover. "Jimmie had the fastest car, and when you're coming as fast as he was, it was just a matter of getting the opening that he needed. We did everything we could to take his line away as often as we could, but we just couldn't do it long enough."
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army/Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for SHR, finished eighth to score his fifth straight top-10 result and his seventh top-10 of the season. The result allowed Newman to gain two spots in the championship standings, bringing him to fifth, 173 points behind teammate Stewart.
Biffle ended up finishing third, while Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Newman, Casey Mears and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 43 laps, with 12 drivers failing to finish the 400-mile race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the June 7 Pocono 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 p.m.