STEWART 'CHOPS' AWAY AT POINT DEFICIT IN KANSAS Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Finishes Fourth in Price Chopper 400 Tony Stewart led four times for a race-high 76 laps in Sunday's Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods before finishing a...
STEWART 'CHOPS' AWAY AT POINT DEFICIT IN KANSAS
Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Finishes Fourth in Price Chopper 400
Tony Stewart led four times for a race-high 76 laps in Sunday's Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods before finishing a solid fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. It was his eighth top-five finish this season and his fifth top-five in 10 career Sprint Cup starts at Kansas.
The result allowed the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) to whittle 35 points off that of new championship point leader Jimmie Johnson. Stewart remains 10th in points, but he's now 127 point arrears Johnson, the four-time and reigning series champion.
"We've known we've been a better team than these last two weeks have shown," said Stewart, who opened the 10-race Chase for the Championship with back-to-back finishes outside the top-20. "We just had bad luck the first race and then just a bad day the second race. Hopefully, the upcoming weeks will be like today."
Stewart shined at Kansas and looked much like the driver who led three times for 100 laps in the opening Chase race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon before an empty fuel tank on the penultimate lap dropped him to 24th.
He qualified 14th and steadily rose through the field to take the lead for the first time on lap 81. He held the top spot for the next 14 circuits around the 1.5-mile oval before a round of green-flag pit stops beginning on lap 95 jumbled the running order.
No matter, Stewart's No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet was the fastest car on the racetrack, and once all the pit stops had cycled through, Stewart was back atop the leaderboard by lap 108.
At the halfway mark of the 267-lap race, Stewart had a 1.8-second lead over second-place Greg Biffle. Another round of green-flag pit stops beginning on lap 146 reset the running order, and just like before, when they were all said and done, Stewart was back in the lead. Stewart held the top spot from laps 149 to 155 and gave up his position when the caution flag waved at lap 156.
Stewart ducked onto pit road for a fuel-only stop, but emerged in fourth-place after Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick and SHR teammate Ryan Newman elected to stay out.
Getting back up to second took no time, for as soon as the race restarted on lap 160, Stewart made quick work of Martin and Newman, climbing into the runner-up slot in just one lap. Chasing down new leader Harvick, however, took a little more effort.
For much of the race, Harvick had proven to be Stewart's equal, and it took Stewart 15 laps to get by Harvick and re-take the lead. Nonetheless, Stewart got there, and he held the point for 17 laps. Unfortunately, it was the last time Stewart would be the leader.
When the caution flag waved for the final time on lap 188, Stewart came to pit road for four tires and fuel. However, the teams of Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard opted for two tires, with the duo returning to the track in first- and second-place, respectively. Then, the teams of Biffle and Matt Kenseth beat Stewart off pit road, placing Stewart fifth when the race resumed on lap 196.
Now mired in dirty air, Stewart had a difficult time finding the balance he needed to sling his car through the corners like he did earlier in the race.
"I just couldn't take off on restarts. I couldn't get going in traffic," Stewart said. "My car kind of sat up on top of the track and took a little bit to get going. We'd get about 10 laps into it and it would be fast. Just gave up too much time up front."
As a result, Stewart could never muster another challenge for the lead. He rose to second, but was too far away from leader Biffle to mount a charge. In fact, the effort to get back to the front exacted a toll on the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice machine, as Stewart couldn't hold off the charges of Johnson and Harvick in the closing laps.
"We were just a little bit off there at the end, and that late in the race, everybody has their stuff right," Stewart said. "I would've liked to have stayed up there at least with Greg (Biffle) where we were at most of the day, but I'm really proud of our guys. It's hard to rebound after two weeks like we've had starting the Chase. But it shows how strong this Stewart-Haas Racing team is. Everybody at Office Depot and Old Spice and Darian Grubb (crew chief) and the Hendrick chassis and engine department and everybody back at our shop has just rallied around and kept the team's morale up. Everybody is working hard and today was a result of that."
Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala for SHR, finished ninth. It was his 11th top-10 finish this season and his fourth top-10 in 10 career Sprint Cup starts at Kansas. He remains 13th in the standings and is 22 points ahead of 14th-place McMurray.
The last time both SHR cars finished in the top-10 was four races ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway where Stewart won and Newman finished eighth.
Biffle wound up the victor in the Price Chopper 400, beating Johnson to the line by 7.638 seconds. It was his 16th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Kansas.
Finishing third was Harvick, while Stewart and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Kenseth, Menard, Newman and A.J. Allmendinger comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 24 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule -- the fourth race of the 10-race Chase -- is the Oct. 10