Stewart Shows His Hand At Las Vegas; 26th-Place Finish in Shelby 427 Not Indicative of Overall Performance On most afternoons following a 26th-place finish, Tony Stewart is none too pleased. But as a driver/owner with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR)...
Stewart Shows His Hand At Las Vegas; 26th-Place Finish in Shelby 427 Not Indicative of Overall Performance
On most afternoons following a 26th-place finish, Tony Stewart is none too pleased. But as a driver/owner with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) -- the team he co-owns with Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the western world -- Stewart sees the big picture with 20/15 vision.
The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for SHR finished 26th in Sunday's Shelby 427 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That result, however, was not indicative of his performance, or that of his teammate, Ryan Newman.
After qualifying 10th, Stewart ran in the top-10 for much of the 285-lap race, even rising to as high as second thanks to a strategic fuel-only pit call by crew chief Darian Grubb on lap 75. And even though a loose-handling racecar dropped Stewart to seventh before a caution came out on lap 95, Stewart found that when his Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet was out front in clean air, it was just as strong as the leaders.
With some fine-tuning of the chassis by Grubb and a tenacious drive by Stewart, the red No. 14 rose to fourth, and held the spot well past the race's halfway mark. But after a scheduled pit stop while under caution on lap 165, the team's strong effort was dealt a setback.
Around lap 200, Stewart radioed that he had a bad vibration in the car, and with each passing lap around the 1.5-mile oval, it was getting worse. Grubb called Stewart to pit road on lap 204 for an unscheduled green flag pit stop, whereupon the pit crew changed right-side tires only in an effort to keep the loss of track position to a minimum. Unfortunately, once Stewart returned to speed, the vibration persisted. Another unscheduled trip to pit road was necessary, this time to change left-side tires. And there the culprit was found -- a loose left-rear wheel.
Two laps down with scant chances of earning either lap back, Stewart ran times as good as the leaders before the checkered flag dropped.
"We had a solid car all day -- definitely a top-five car. The finish doesn't show the performance that we had," said Stewart after making his 11th career Sprint Cup start at Las Vegas. "Obviously, we had bad luck with the left-rear that came loose, but I take five-fold over that that we were good.
"There's still question marks I'm sure with a lot of people, 'Can we do this?' and three weeks in a row we've gone out and run well. We didn't get the physical finish today that we deserved, but we had a good performance on the racetrack. Every time I leave the racetrack, it just gives me confidence that we're going to be something to contend with at the end of the year."
Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for SHR, finished 25th and dealt with nearly identical circumstances to those of Stewart. Newman was running in the 13th spot before a loose left-rear wheel with less than 100 laps remaining sent him tumbling down the running order. Newman was forced to pit under green, and as a result, went two laps down.
Stewart continues to lead the SHR driver lineup in the championship point race, but his 26th-place finish dropped him four spots to eighth in the standings after round three of 36. Newman maintained his 33rd position in the standings. Stewart is 80 points behind new series leader Jeff Gordon and Newman is 233 points out of first.
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch beat Clint Bowyer by .411 of a second to win the Shelby 427 and score the 13th victory of his Sprint Cup career and the first at his hometown track. He also became the first Sprint Cup driver to win the pole and the race in the same weekend at Las Vegas. But it wasn't easy. Despite winning the pole, Busch had to start at the rear of the 43-car field because his team had to change engines just minutes into the weekend's first practice. Per the NASCAR rulebook, any team that changes engines must start at the rear of the field, regardless of its qualifying position. That, however, didn't slow down the 23-year-old Busch, as he led three times for 51 laps.
Finishing third behind Bowyer was his Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton, while David Reutimann and Bobby Labonte rounded out the top-five. Gordon, Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There was an event-record 14 caution periods for 66 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 427-mile race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the March 8 Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga.