LONG WEEKEND PRODUCES LONG DAY FOR STEWART Old Spice/Office Depot Driver Finishes 26th in Rain-Postponed Martinsville Race For the first 65 laps of Monday's rain-postponed Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at...
LONG WEEKEND PRODUCES LONG DAY FOR STEWART
Old Spice/Office Depot Driver Finishes 26th in Rain-Postponed Martinsville Race
For the first 65 laps of Monday's rain-postponed Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, it appeared as though Tony Stewart had a great chance for his third career victory at the .526-mile oval. Unfortunately, the handling on Stewart's No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala became problematic, making for a long day for Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb and relegating them to a disappointing 26th-place finish.
Rain was a problem for much of the weekend at Martinsville, as Friday's qualifying session was canceled due to the wet conditions and Stewart was assigned the fifth starting spot after NASCAR set the line-up by current car owner points. More rain in southern Virginia pushed the race from Sunday to Monday.
Once the race started, Stewart quickly began a charge to the front and was second by lap 34, while telling Grubb his car was tight in the center. Still, the No. 14 machine was good on entry and exit in the turns. However, after the first pit stop of the day on lap 43, the handling of Stewart's Chevy began to go away.
Even as he managed to stay among the top-10, Stewart informed Grubb that he needed the car to bite and turn better in the corners, so Grubb called for four tires, fuel and adjustments to the tire pressure, wedge and track bar when Stewart pitted again on lap 65. Because of all the adjustments, the stop was lengthy, and Stewart has to restart outside the top-20. From there, the day-long battle between crew and car was never resolved.
Throughout the next 443 laps, Grubb threw everything he had at the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevy, but it was to no avail. The Floyd, Va., native tinkered with track bar, wedge, shock and tire pressure adjustments, some big and some small, in hopes of getting the car to Stewart's liking.
Just past the 300-lap mark, Grubb sent car chief Jeff Meendering over the wall to adjust the toe angle of the car's front-end alignment in hopes that it would bring the No. 14 to life, but even that rare in-race adjustment failed to fix the handling.
Stewart ultimately went down two laps and finished outside the top-25 for only the fifth time in his 23 career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville.
"The first 40 laps, we were the fastest car out there and got up to second," Grubb said. "After that, I don't have a clue what happened. We tried to make changes to make the car turn better and everything we did made the car tighter. We started undoing all of our adjustments and we got it a little better, but by that time we had already lost track position and were losing laps. I've never made that many adjustments on a racecar, so we were obviously way, way off."
Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman enjoyed a much better outing by finishing a solid fourth.
Denny Hamlin led six times for a race-high 172 laps to win the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500. It was his ninth career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Martinsville.
Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano finished .670 of a second behind in the runner-up slot. Jeff Gordon finished third, while Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 13 caution periods for 79 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the race, which was extended eight laps past its originally scheduled 500-lap distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.
With round six of 36 complete, Stewart is eighth in the Sprint Cup championship standings. He fell three spots and now has 770 points, 128 markers behind new series leader Johnson. Newman gained four positions to climb to 22nd in the standings. He has 612 points and is 286 points back of Johnson.
The Sprint Cup Series takes a weekend off in honor of Easter before heading to Phoenix International Raceway for the April 10 Subway Fresh Fit 600k.