STEWART THE OWNER HAPPY ABOUT CHASE PROSPECTS Stewart The Driver Disappointed with 17th-Place Finish at Richmond Tony Stewart was a bit conflicted after Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) ...
STEWART THE OWNER HAPPY ABOUT CHASE PROSPECTS
Stewart The Driver Disappointed with 17th-Place Finish at Richmond
Tony Stewart was a bit conflicted after Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. He and his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Ryan Newman were in the elite, 12-driver Chase for the Championship -- an impressive feat for any organization, let alone one in its inaugural season.
As co-owner of SHR with Oxnard, Calif.-based Haas Automation -- the largest CNC machine tool builder in the western world -- Stewart the team owner was happy and impressed with what his foray into NASCAR team ownership had produced.
Stewart the driver, however, was none too pleased with his 17th-place finish in the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 -- one of just eight finishes outside the top-10.
"I'm disappointed with my effort tonight. I made mistakes as a driver that I normally cuss people for doing, but from an ownership standpoint, I'm ecstatic to have us locked in and extremely proud for Ryan and everybody on the U.S. Army team to get themselves locked in," said Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for SHR. "This is a hard night to run when you have to fight your way into the championship Chase. It seems like there's so many ways you can screw yourself up and only a few ways to ensure that you're going to be in. So I'm really proud of their effort and I'm proud of my guys effort, too. None of us on our team and none of us at Ryan's or anybody at Stewart-Haas know the meaning of quit. So we are excited about 10 great weeks coming up."
Richmond marked the last race of the regular season, as the Chase for the Championship is now on. This is Stewart's fifth appearance in the Chase and the third for Newman. Stewart won the Chase in 2005 -- the second year of the format -- to collect his second Sprint Cup championship. (Stewart's first championship came in 2002 under the old NASCAR Winston Cup Series format.) Newman finished seventh in his Chase debut in 2004 and sixth in 2005.
Only the top-12 drivers in points are eligible to compete for the Chase for the Championship. NASCAR recalibrated the points for those in the top-12 as soon as the Richmond race was over, with each driver getting 5,000 points, plus 10 bonus points for each of their respective wins during the 26-race regular season. For drivers starting the Chase with identical point totals, their seed was determined by the traditional tiebreaker of best finishes beyond race victories.
Stewart claimed his Chase berth four races ago by simply starting the Aug. 16 Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Thanks to three wins and a series-leading 13 top-fives and 18 top-10s, he slots in at second.
"The system is a good system," said Stewart, alluding to the point system where after leading it for 13 straight weeks he's now second with the recalibrated Chase standings. "It's not devastating to leave here and be second in the points after leading for so long. I mean, we all knew what the system was going in. It's a fair system. It's an exciting system.
"We're not leaving here with our heads down because we're now second in the points. We're right there in striking distance, and if we can put together 10 great weeks, then we will be the champion. If we don't, then we didn't deserve it."
That Stewart and his race team are even in this position is amazing considering that the last driver/owner to contend for a championship was Alan Kulwicki in 1992 -- a title he eventually won.
"I am extremely proud," said Stewart when asked about how far his team has come in such a short period of time. "I am proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. I am proud of Gene Haas (owner, Haas Automation) and Joe Custer (senior vice president, SHR) that gave us the opportunity to be partners with them and help build this organization, and also Rick Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Engines and Chassis. We just have a great package. We have a great group of people. We have a great support system with Rick and his guys. Everybody has done an awesome job of working over the winter. Darian Grubb (crew chief for Stewart), Tony Gibson (crew chief for Newman), Ryan Newman, Office Depot, Old Spice, U.S. Army, Burger King and all these people that believed in us and wanted to come and be a part of this program helped us get where we are today."
Lost in the Chase hoopla was that there was a race winner at Richmond. Denny Hamlin beat Kurt Busch by .378 of a second to win the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. It was his sixth career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Richmond. The win was especially meaningful to Hamlin as he grew up in Chesterfield, Va., just 22 miles from Richmond International Raceway.
Finishing third was Jeff Gordon, while Martin and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Sam Hornish Jr., Kevin Harvick and Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 56 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule -- the first race of the 10-race Chase for the Championship -- is the Sept. 20 Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.