STEWART RUNS FAST AT LOUDON BEFORE FUEL RUNS OUT Office Depot/Old Spice Drivers Runs Out of Gas While Leading on Penultimate Lap Tony Stewart led three times for 100 laps in Sunday's Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire...
STEWART RUNS FAST AT LOUDON BEFORE FUEL RUNS OUT
Office Depot/Old Spice Drivers Runs Out of Gas While Leading on Penultimate Lap
Tony Stewart led three times for 100 laps in Sunday's Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. And in the first race of the 10-race Chase for the Championship, the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) was on the cusp of grabbing hold of this year's title fight with an opening-round win.
But while leading with less than two laps to go, Stewart ran out of fuel. He coasted around the 1.058-mile oval for the final circuit of the 300-lap race and finished 24th, the last driver on the lead lap. Clint Bowyer, who served as Stewart's primary competition for much of the race, wound up with the victory.
"I'm not happy, that's for sure, but we went down swinging," said a calm and collected Stewart at the back of his team's transporter in the Sprint Cup garage. "It's hard to lose one that way, but at the same time, it was fun racing Clint like that. He was definitely the fastest car and congratulations to those guys. He did a good job of saving fuel and I didn't do a good job.
"It's a tough way to start the Chase, but I'm proud of my guys. Darian (Grubb, crew chief) kept swinging at it all day and finally on that last set of tires we got it halfway decent."
Stewart qualified an impressive third in Friday's time trials and led the first of Saturday's two practice sessions. His No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy was obviously strong, but after leading laps 2-25 on Sunday, Stewart fell to as low as 16th after a caution on lap 26 sent everyone to pit road. There, Stewart took four tires while many of those who had been running behind him took two tires in an effort to better their track position. It worked, as Stewart had to fight his way back into the top-10, which he did on lap 37.
But a tight handling condition, particularly in the center of the track's relatively flat corners, hampered Stewart's ability to get on the throttle as quickly as he would've liked. Stewart rose to fourth nonetheless, and after a lap-208 pit stop under caution where Grubb ordered a significant wedge adjustment, the No. 14 crew got Stewart off pit road in second, just a fraction behind Bowyer.
The two drivers waged a spirited battle from the opening of the lap-215 restart, with Stewart eventually prevailing. He led the next 25 laps before Jamie McMurray took the point on lap 238. But Stewart made his way past McMurray following the race's final restart on lap 247. The two-time Sprint Cup champion pulled out a sizeable lead during the next 51 laps until his fuel cell went dry, which handed the race to Bowyer, as he led the final two laps.
"I would've settled for second. If you know exactly how much gas you have, it would be different, but you never know," Stewart said. "It's part of the sport, always has been. It's what makes it exciting when you never know until the last lap what's going to happen."
The 24th-place finish dropped Stewart to 11th in the Chase standings, 124 markers behind Chase leader Denny Hamlin. Stewart was asked if it was a deficit he could overcome in the nine remaining races.
"There is so much that can happen in nine races. I promise you this: This Old Spice/Office Depot Chevy team is not going to give up. We'll do the best we can and give it our best shot."
Ryan Newman, Stewart's SHR teammate and driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, finished a solid eighth. It was his ninth top-10 finish this season and his 12th top-10 in 18 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire.
Bowyer led seven times for a race-high 177 laps and beat Hamlin to the line by .477 of a second to win the Sylvania 300. It was his third career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at New Hampshire.
Finishing third was McMurray, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five. Jeff Gordon, David Reutimann, Newman, Kyle Busch and Sam Hornish Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 34 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish.
Stewart represents SHR in this year's Chase for the Championship and came into New Hampshire seeded sixth, 50 points behind Chase leader Hamlin. With nine races remaining before a champion is crowned following the season finale Nov. 21 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule -- the second race of the 10-race Chase for the Championship -- is the Sept. 26 AAA 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race begins at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN. A pre-race show airs at noon on ESPN2.