FUEL MILEAGE BATTLE IN PHOENIX LEAVES STEWART 17TH Old Spice/Office Depot Driver Ninth in Points with One Race Remaining Tony Stewart had a fast racecar in Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Phoenix International ...
FUEL MILEAGE BATTLE IN PHOENIX LEAVES STEWART 17TH
Old Spice/Office Depot Driver Ninth in Points with One Race Remaining
Tony Stewart had a fast racecar in Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Phoenix International Raceway, but as the 312-lap race around the 1-mile oval turned into a fuel mileage battle, fastest wasn't necessarily best. Stewart was proof of that, as he finished a disappointing 17th when the checkered flag dropped.
The maroon and red No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) proved quick from the start, as Stewart used it to crack the top-10 on lap 38 after starting 20th. Running some of the fastest laps of the race, he continued his march to the front.
Stewart was eighth when the caution flag waved on lap 60, whereupon he came to the pits for four tires and fuel, along with a track bar and air pressure adjustment to get his car to turn better through the center of the track's corners. It was a flawless stop, and the No. 14 team's quick work gained Stewart two spots on the track.
In sixth for the lap-66 restart, Stewart resumed his charge forward. He passed Kyle Busch for fifth on lap 75 and by lap 100 was up to fourth. Stewart hung in and around the top-five until a lap-224 pit stop while under caution. There, an issue prevented getting the left-rear tire off the ground quick enough, delaying the tire change and dropping Stewart from fourth to eighth when racing resumed on lap 229.
Now mired in traffic, Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb were faced with the added challenge that the race was going to be decided by fuel mileage. When to pit, or to pit at all, was a decision that had to be made as the laps ticked off the board.
The lap-229 restart meant that only 83 laps remained. If some timely cautions came, Stewart might be able to make it to the end. Or, those timely cautions could also allow Stewart to pit for right-side tires and enough fuel to go the distance, with the risk being he'd be behind anyone who opted to stay out and gamble that their fuel mileage could carry them to the checkered.
When the caution flag waved for what would be the final time on lap 235, Stewart was in eighth-place and faced the decision: stay out and stay close to the leaders, or pit and give up track position for fresh right-side rubber and enough fuel to go the rest of the way.
Stewart stayed out, but everyone behind him peeled off the racetrack and onto pit road.
When the race restarted on lap 240, all those drivers with fresh tires quickly made their way past Stewart, jettisoning him to 12th in just five laps.
Since his track position was gone, Stewart went into fuel conservation mode. He backed nearly a second off the pace, dropping to 17th and the last driver on the lead lap. The theory behind this being the tortoise (Stewart), would out-wit the hare (the leaders). Unfortunately, nearly everyone played this fuel mileage game too, slowing their pace considerably in an effort to save fuel. The net result was that Stewart was stuck where he was.
With the field so strung out and no more cautions in sight, drivers were keenly aware of how fast they needed to go to keep their pursuers behind them. All hoped that whoever they were racing would run out of fuel. No one's tank ran completely dry, and those who were close on fuel pitted, including Denny Hamlin, who led four-times for a race-high 190 laps but wound up 12th.
The quirky set of circumstances held Stewart in 17th when the checkered flag waved.
Playing the fuel mileage card well was Stewart's SHR teammate Ryan Newman. The driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Veterans Day Chevrolet Impala finished in the runner-up spot behind race-winner Carl Edwards by 4.770 seconds.
Newman came into Phoenix as the track's most recent Sprint Cup victor, as he scored the win in the series' spring visit to the desert oval in April. He now has five top-10 finishes in 17 career Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix, with Sunday's effort giving Newman his 13th top-10 finish of the season.
Edwards' win in the Kobalt Tools 500k was his 17th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Phoenix. It also ended a 70-race winless streak for Edwards, as his last victory came Nov. 16, 2008 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five, while Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 25 laps, with six drivers failing to finish.
Stewart represents SHR in this year's Chase for the Championship. He came into Phoenix eighth among the top-12 drivers competing for this year's title, 363 points behind Chase leader Hamlin. He leaves Phoenix ninth in points, 388 markers arrears Hamlin.
Newman remained 15th in the standings with 4,156 points, the third-highest non-Chase driver.
Just one race remains before a champion is crowned following the Nov. 21 Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.