ANOTHER RACE, ANOTHER TOP-10 FOR STEWART Office Depot/Old Spice Drivers Leads 36 Laps Before Finishing Sixth at Michigan A win is just around the corner for Tony Stewart, and proof can be found in Sunday's CARFAX 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series...
ANOTHER RACE, ANOTHER TOP-10 FOR STEWART
Office Depot/Old Spice Drivers Leads 36 Laps Before Finishing Sixth at Michigan
A win is just around the corner for Tony Stewart, and proof can be found in Sunday's CARFAX 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
Stewart started fourth -- his best starting spot at Michigan since he qualified third for the track's 2005 June race -- before leading three times for 36 laps. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) appeared ready to notch his first victory of 2010 and the 38th of his Sprint Cup career until a caution for debris came out with a little more than 30 laps remaining in the 200-lap race. It ultimately spoiled Stewart's potential victory run and left him with a disappointing but respectable sixth-place finish -- his 10th top-10 result in the last 12 Sprint Cup races and fifth straight.
Stewart was leading handily after taking the point from David Ragan on lap 167. He had enough fuel to go the distance, and with his fiercest challenger -- Kevin Harvick -- mired in traffic, Stewart was poised to take his second Sprint Cup win at Michigan.
But when NASCAR displayed the caution flag for debris two laps later, it put Stewart in an unenviable position. Sure, he was the leader, but with 30 laps remaining a crucial decision had to be made -- pit for new tires or stay out and keep your hard-earned track position. Those behind Stewart got the benefit of seeing what Stewart did and then reacting. As the leader, Stewart had no one to gauge. If he pits, perhaps everyone stays out and he drops out of the top-10. If he stays out, perhaps everyone else comes in for either two or four tires and emerges stronger thanks to the newfound grip from their fresh Goodyears.
It turned out to be the latter, with only Stewart, Harvick and Denny Hamlin staying out while the rest of the lead-lap cars pitted for tires. As soon as Stewart saw the cars behind him peel off the racetrack and onto pit road, he keyed his radio and said, "We're in big trouble here."
When the race restarted on lap 173, Stewart was at the point, which he held until Hamlin zipped by him on lap 178. Harvick passed Stewart for second on lap 180, and then Carl Edwards took over third on lap 195. With an Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet that only became looser as the race reached its closing moments, Stewart did all he could to hold onto fourth, but it was to no avail. On the penultimate lap, Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle powered past Stewart, dropping him out of the top-five and into sixth.
"We were just too loose there at the end," said Stewart, who now has 16 top-10 finishes in 24 career Sprint Cup starts at Michigan, which includes his win in June 2000. "We were good most of the day, but when we were getting beat, it was because guys could get off the corners better than we could. We stayed on top of it most of the race, and when we got out in clean air, we were the car to beat. But that last caution really messed up our strategy. It's a tough situation because you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. We just couldn't make old tires work there at the end."
Harvick did, as he took the lead from Hamlin on lap 190 and never looked back. It was his 14th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his first at Michigan. It was also the first win at Michigan for Richard Childress Racing since the late Dale Earnhardt proved victorious at the 2-mile oval on June 24, 1990.
Hamlin finished 1.731 seconds behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Edwards, Biffle and Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr., Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for SHR, finished 23rd after running in the top-15 for much of the first half of the event. Mid-race contact with Logano caused Newman to spin and lose a lap. While he eventually regained that lost lap, he became stuck in traffic and was unable to crack the top-15 again.
There were five caution periods for 25 laps in the CARFAX 400, with seven drivers failing to finish.
With round 23 of 36 complete, Stewart jumped four spots to fourth in the Sprint Cup championship standings. He now has 3,020 points and is 380 markers behind series leader Harvick and 300 points ahead of 13th-place Mark Martin, the first driver on the outside looking in at the 12-driver Chase for the Championship, which will be decided in the next three races. Newman remained 14th in the standings. He has 2,652 points and is 103 points back of 12th-place Clint Bowyer, who holds the final spot in the Chase.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Aug. 21 Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.