STEWART SCORES SECOND THE HARD WAY AT NEW HAMPSHIRE Late-Race Rally Gives Old Spice/Office Depot Driver Fourth Top-Five of 2010 Tony Stewart snared an impressive second-place finish the hard way in Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 NASCAR...
STEWART SCORES SECOND THE HARD WAY AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
Late-Race Rally Gives Old Spice/Office Depot Driver Fourth Top-Five of 2010
Tony Stewart snared an impressive second-place finish the hard way in Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) had to come from as far back as 33rd in the 43-car field because he was off-sequence from the rest of his competitors on pit stops.
It all stemmed from the team's first stop of the day on lap 36 when the leaders came down pit road under the race's first caution. Stewart's stop appeared to be a routine four-tire change with a top-off of fuel, that is until the fuel can dropped to the ground and only two of the can's 11 gallons of fuel made it into the car.
While still early in the 301-lap race around the 1.058-mile oval, the miscue would dog the Old Spice/Office Depot team until two late-race cautions allowed Stewart to catch back up to the leaders and finally regain his lost track position.
But getting there took the entire race, as Stewart fell all the way back to 33rd when he finally had to pit for fuel on lap 85 while the race stayed under green.
Stewart had a fast car and could run his way to the front, but he stayed off-sequence on his pit stops because the race stayed green for an incredible 201 laps. Despite climbing into the top-five on two occasions, Stewart had to relinquish the precious track position to pit for fuel and tires.
There was, however, a silver lining. Because the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet was so strong, it forced other teams to shorten their pit windows. And because Stewart was so fast, he could chase down the leaders, especially when he had fresh tires. The competition couldn't afford to stay on the racetrack and watch Stewart eat into their respective leads. They were forced to pit for tires to simply maintain their collective advantage over Stewart. As result, Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb were able to shorten the pit windows of their competitors by as many as 20 laps.
All, however, seemed lost, when the caution did finally come out on lap 240 for oil on the racetrack. That's because Stewart had pitted earlier on lap 234 and was now a lap down to the leaders.
But where some saw a dead end, others -- namely Grubb -- saw opportunity. He ordered Stewart to stay out and be the first wave-around car, where by not pitting under caution, he earned his lap back as all the other cars on the lead lap did pit.
When the race restarted on lap 246, Stewart was 14th -- the last car on the lead lap. And just as he had been yearning for cautions all race long, cautions again were needed in order for Stewart to make up ground on the leaders.
Thanks to a dust-up between Reed Sorenson and Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 282, Stewart got his much-needed caution, for he was finally able to pit at the same time with the leaders.
Stewart took right-side tires only and emerged in 10th-place when the race restarted on lap 288.
The next and final caution on lap 290 helped in two ways -- it allowed Stewart to catch back up to the leaders, and more importantly, the caution involved the two drivers vying for the lead. When Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch, who had been running 1-2, tangled in between turns three and four, it allowed everyone else to move up two spots.
Thanks to their demise and Stewart's ability to pick off cars in the two laps that were run under green, he restarted in sixth when the race went green for the final time on lap 294.
In the next five laps, Stewart moved past SHR teammate Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon to grab third. And in the final three laps, Stewart ran down second-place Kurt Busch and nudged him out of the way on the penultimate lap. Had a few more laps been available, Stewart might've been able to chase down eventual winner Jimmie Johnson, but on lap 301 the checkered flag waved and Stewart's run to the front was officially over.
"I'm proud of these guys and this Old Spice/Office Depot team," said Stewart, who began the race in 25th. "We started in the back, worked our way to the front, and on the first stop, didn't get fuel in the car, so we had to keep short-pitting on the long, greens there. We gained some track position and then we'd lose it when the guys on fresh tires would run us down and get by. We got caught out there toward the end and had to take the wave-around, and then you start behind all the lapped cars and everything. It was a long fight there at the end, but we got a top-two out of it. That was pretty cool."
It was Stewart's 12th top-five finish in 23 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire and his fourth of 2010. It was also his fifth top-10 finish in the last six races -- three of which have been top-five results -- June 6 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway (third), June 13 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn (fifth) and Sunday at New Hampshire.
"I'd like to win, obviously, but we're gaining ground every week," Stewart said. "To be caught out there a lap down and have to take the wave-around and fight our way through all those cars, I was pretty happy about finishing second."
Dulling the happiness somewhat was Stewart knowing that his contact with Busch was something he would've rather avoided.
"It was my fault sliding into Kurt. That cost him second, but we just both sailed it off in there and neither one of us were going to let the other one have an advantage going into (turn) one on the last lap," Stewart said. "We both went as deep as we knew we could make it in there, and it's my responsibility as the driver on the inside to keep control of my car, and I lost it, and luckily, I hit him flat and it didn't knock him out or spin him out or anything like that, but it was definitely 100 percent my fault for losing control of my car."
Busch shrugged off the contact and chalked it up to hard-fought racing on a tight-and-fast New Hampshire oval.
"I had a fifth- to 10th-place car and I'm running second," Busch said. "It's not that I didn't deserve to be running there, but my lap time wasn't as competitive as it needed to be. So when you're in that position, you have to know that something is going to come, and you've got to be ready for it. I think it's fun."
Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet for SHR, finished sixth to score his second top-five result of 2010 and his fifth in 17 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire.
The last time both SHR cars finished in the top-10 was Oct. 25, 2009 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway when Newman finished seventh and Stewart was ninth.
Johnson's win in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was his 52nd career Sprint Cup victory, his fifth of the season and his third at New Hampshire.
Stewart finished .753 of a second behind Johnson, while Busch, Gordon and Harvick rounded out the top-five. Newman, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and A.J. Allmendinger comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were four caution periods for 19 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish the 301-lap race.
With round 17 of 36 complete, Stewart is ninth in the Sprint Cup championship standings. He gained one spot and now has 2,158 points, 331 markers behind series leader Harvick and 141 points ahead of 13th-place Earnhardt. Newman moved up one spot to 14th. He has 2,005 points and is 15 points back of 12th-place Carl Edwards, who holds the final spot in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship with nine races remaining before the Chase begins.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the July 3 Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.