STEWART EARNS ROCK-SOLID RUN IN GRANITE STATE Home Depot Driver Overcomes Pit Road Speeding Penalty to Finish Eighth Tony Stewart started eighth and finished eighth in Sunday's Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor...
STEWART EARNS ROCK-SOLID RUN IN GRANITE STATE
Home Depot Driver Overcomes Pit Road Speeding Penalty to Finish Eighth
Tony Stewart started eighth and finished eighth in Sunday's Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. But despite making 300 laps around the 1.058-mile oval and finishing right where he started, Stewart's run in the Granite State was far from mundane.
His No. 20 Home Depot Toyota was fast from the get-go, as Stewart drove his Joe Gibbs Racing-prepared machine to second by lap 22 with a pass of last year's Sylvania 300 race winner Clint Bowyer. Stewart was a top-three mainstay until a round of pit stops during a caution period on lap 85. It was there where things got interesting.
Upon exiting the tight confines of his pit stall, Stewart clipped the right-rear corner of Johnny Sauter's No. 70 car with his left-front fender. The contact was slight, but still enough to push the fender down onto Stewart's left-front tire. As crew chief Greg Zipadelli saw tire smoke emanating from the left-front fender as soon as Stewart dove into turn three, he immediately called his driver back into the pits to pull out the fender and ensure that a cut tire wouldn't come under his watch.
The necessary conservatism placed Stewart 36th in the 43-car field when the race restarted on lap 87.
While fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., brought the 101,000 fans in attendance to their feet as he led laps 89-157, Stewart methodically worked his way through traffic and toward the front.
By lap 105, Stewart was 25th and looking for more.
In 21st on lap 151 when a series of green flag pit stops began to take place, Stewart headed to pit road a few laps later for his scheduled turn of service. The stop was flawless, but Stewart's exit was not. NASCAR nabbed him for speeding, and the two-time Sprint Cup champion was forced to serve a drive-through penalty on the following lap. Heeding the 45 mph pit road speed limit while the rest of his counterparts sailed around the track at speed, Stewart went a lap down and dropped to 30th.
But for a team that has battled adversity throughout its 10-year existence, the penalty was quickly sloughed off as the team focused on getting its lap back.
Stewart rallied back to 25th when the caution flag flew for debris on lap 215. On the following lap, the orange-and-black attack performed a sharp pit stop that put Stewart 21st and only the second car a lap down when the race restarted on lap 221.
As soon as the green flag dropped, Stewart passed Aric Almirola to become the first driver one lap down. And when a fortuitous caution flag waved on lap 223 for Joe Nemechek's accident on the frontstretch, Stewart was back on the lead lap and back in business.
With plenty of fuel to go the distance, Stewart was hammer down, cracking the top-15 on lap 243 and running 12th with 50 laps to go.
After the team's final pit stop of the race while under caution on lap 267, Stewart reasserted his presence in the field by picking off those ahead of him one by one.
In 11th when the race restarted on lap 272, Stewart broke back into the top-10 with a pass of Bowyer on lap 274. With 25 laps to go, Stewart dispatched Kevin Harvick for ninth, and on lap 278, Stewart passed four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon for eighth -- a position Stewart would hold through the finish.
"I'm real proud of the guys," said Stewart, who now has 12 top-10 finishes in 20 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire. "They got us track position and an opportunity to get back on the lead lap with the 'lucky dog,' and that was because of the guys' great pit stop before that.
"I got a drive-through penalty that got us way behind. We had some bad luck and then I made our problem worse with the speeding penalty. To fight back to eighth -- I'm pretty happy with that."
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates -- Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch -- finished ninth and 34th, respectively, in the Sylvania 300.
Joey Logano, heir to Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in 2009, finished 32nd in his Sprint Cup debut driving the No. 96 Home Depot/DLP HDTV Toyota for Hall of Fame Racing. Logano's Sprint Cup debut was in line with the debuts of such renowned drivers as Jeff Gordon (31st at Atlanta in November 1992), Jimmie Johnson (39th at Charlotte in October 2001) and Busch (41st at Las Vegas in March 2004).
There were eight caution periods for 37 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 300-lap race.
All three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers are represented in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup. Busch, who came into New Hampshire first with a 30-point lead over second-place Edwards, leaves eighth in points, 74 markers arrears Edwards, the new point leader. Hamlin maintained his sixth-place point standing and is 72 points behind Edwards. Stewart gained one spot and sits seventh, 73 points arrears Edwards.
"Kyle just needs to go home and forget about it for the week," counseled Stewart, who won his championships in 2002 and 2005. "He's been the dominant force all year, and today was one of those odd days for him. You feel bad for him because you know they're better than that. But you know if there's anybody that can rebound from a day like today, it's that 18 car and Kyle and Steve Addington (crew chief) and those guys. They're not out of this yet."