Stewart Rallies for Top-Five Finish at Martinsville Home Depot Driver Gains 11 Positions Over Final 107 Laps The word "cool" had plenty of meaning for Tony Stewart in Sunday's Goody's Cool Orange 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville...
Stewart Rallies for Top-Five Finish at Martinsville
Home Depot Driver Gains 11 Positions Over Final 107 Laps
The word "cool" had plenty of meaning for Tony Stewart in Sunday's Goody's Cool Orange 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, secured a strong fifth-place finish after a costly decision to pit off-sequence from the leaders that lost him valuable track position. But on a cool and blustery day that saw temperatures dip below 40 degrees with a heavy mist that fell throughout the event, the two-time Sprint Cup champion kept his cool by passing 11 cars over the final 107 laps to secure his third top-five finish of the season.
"I pitted and took a gamble when we had 40 laps on our tires," said Stewart after recording his 11th top-10 in 19 career Sprint Cup races at Martinsville. "I thought everybody would come in, but if they didn't, I thought we might get a run and catch them out. It didn't work out. I ended up losing 11 spots, so it was a bad decision on my part. I'm proud of these guys. I'm proud of Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) and everybody on my team. They did a good job of staying with it all day."
After starting ninth, Stewart hung in the top-10 despite battling a loose-handling race car. Under the second caution period on lap 44, Zipadelli went to work on the No. 20 machine, making wholesale changes that included track bar and air pressure adjustments, along with removing a spring rubber. All the effort dramatically improved the handling of Stewart's Home Depot ride, as he moved into the top-10 by lap 164.
The 10-year Joe Gibbs Racing driver stayed within the top-10 until lap 330, when Stewart made that fateful decision to bring his car to pit road in hopes of gaining track position on a long green flag run. But less than 30 laps later, David Gilliland's spin brought out the next caution of the day, forcing Stewart to pit again with the rest of the field in order to make it the distance on fuel.
After pitting one more time, Stewart restarted in the 16th position on lap 393. Over the next 107 laps, Stewart impressively ran down each car ahead of him one-by-one. With 10 laps to go, he found himself in seventh-place with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Casey Mears and Dale Earnhardt Jr., in his sights. Over the final three laps, he slipped by Mears and then Earnhardt to secure fifth-place.
"I went on the outside of Casey and went by him, but Junior raced me hard there at the end," said Stewart as he recounted his late-race rally. "I like being around that group of guys up in the top-five because you trust them. You race with them every week. That's what makes the races fun -- when you get around guys like that because you know you can race hard like that."
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin won the Goody's Cool Orange 500 to score his fourth career victory, his first of the season and his first at Martinsville. Completing the Joe Gibbs Racing trio was Kyle Busch, who finished a disappointing 38th after mechanical problems forced him to the garage for repair, causing him to lose several laps.
Despite the result, Busch remains the lead Joe Gibbs Racing driver in the championship point race, but his result dropped him from first to fifth, 84 points behind new series leader Jeff Burton. Stewart and Hamlin occupy the sixth and eighth positions, respectively, making Joe Gibbs Racing the only team to have three drivers within the top-eight in points. Stewart is 20 markers behind Busch and 104 points out of first, while Hamlin is 157 points arrears Burton.
Finishing .398 of a second behind Hamlin was pole-sitter and seven-time Martinsville race winner Jeff Gordon. Burton crossed the stripe in third, while Jimmie Johnson and Stewart rounded out the top-five. Earnhardt Jr., Mears, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer comprised the remainder of the top-10.