Back for Seconds; Stewart Finishes Second at Richmond, Rises to Third in Points Tony Stewart continues to knock on the door to victory lane, as evidenced by his second-place finish in Saturday night's Crown Royal 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series...
Back for Seconds; Stewart Finishes Second at Richmond, Rises to Third in Points
Tony Stewart continues to knock on the door to victory lane, as evidenced by his second-place finish in Saturday night's Crown Royal 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) rallied from the 17th position in the final 50 laps around the .75-mile oval to score his second runner-up effort of the season.
"It was awesome," said Stewart, who opted for four new tires on his final pit stop of the evening while other drivers took just two tires. "I'm not sure we had a second-place car, but we got there at the end. We had the luxury of coming in to pit because we were toward the back of the lead-lap cars. We got to come in and put four tires on it. The guys did a really good job all night in the pits. They really made us up a lot of spots and that got us some track position. We just drove our way back to the front. We had about 20 or 30 laps left on our tires than everybody else did and that gave us an advantage."
The finish was Stewart's second runner-up result in the past three races, as the two-time Sprint Cup champion finished second at Phoenix International Raceway on April 18. It was also the same result Stewart posted in his last visit to Richmond in September 2008, where he finished .365 of a second behind race winner Jimmie Johnson. Stewart has now finished in the top-10 in eight of his last nine Sprint Cup starts at Richmond.
In the Crown Royal 400, Stewart finished 2.751 seconds behind Kyle Busch, who swept his slate of races at Richmond by winning a Late Model stock car race at nearby Southside Speedway Thursday night, the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Friday night and the Sprint Cup race on Saturday night. It was his third Sprint Cup win of 2009 and the 15th of his career, on his 24th birthday no less.
"I've watched Kyle this week, raced with him Thursday night, got to watch him run last night and tonight," said Stewart, who teamed with Busch all of last season while with Joe Gibbs Racing. "When you get on a string like he's on, you have so much confidence and momentum on your side. That means so much in this series."
In Stewart's new role as a driver/owner with SHR, he's proven that he can not only juggle the dual responsibilities, but thrive.
"I've been racing 29 years with a lot of different series. Momentum's everything. That gives you such a head start when you get to the next track that weekend," Stewart said. "For us as an organization, with that momentum, I can't wait to get to the shop Monday and see the smiles on the guys' faces. That's the payoff for me. That's the stuff that will carry us into Darlington next week and carry us into the All-Star Race the week after that."
Fellow racer Jeff Burton, who finished third, agreed. "It's been impressive to watch the change, the mentality that Tony has brought in there about not being there just to be there, but to be there to win. I'm not sure I remember a team changing possession, with a new owner stepping in and the turnaround being what it's been. He's making other people want to go and own their own cars. That's probably not a good thing (smiling), but it's been real impressive to watch."
Stewart's strong run, which was his fourth top-five and seventh top-10 in the 10 races held so far this season, bumped him up one more spot in the championship standings to third, where he is only 39 points arrears new series leader Jeff Gordon.
"I told somebody that I would rather have five second-place finishes in a row than I would have a win, a 32nd, an 18th, a 43rd and a seventh," said Stewart, co-owner of SHR with Oxnard, Calif.-based Haas Automation, the largest CNC machine tool builder in the western world. "That consistency and that momentum of being up front every week and knowing that you have an opportunity to run for the win each night, that's what carries you into that week-after-week stretch. That's what you need going into the Chase. You need to have that momentum. You need to have that confidence that goes with the momentum to feel like every day when you go out there, you have a shot to win the race."
Making the evening that much sweeter was the performance of his teammate, Ryan Newman. The driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army/Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS started 10th and led four times for 45 laps before finishing fourth. It marked the first time both SHR drivers finished in the top-five and the second time both drivers finished in the top-10.
"A great effort for Tony Stewart and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing," said Newman, who vaulted from 13th in points to 10th, 243 markers behind Gordon and solidly in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship field if the season's final, 10-race playoff were to begin today. "We keep doing what we're doing here and we'll get what we want."
"Ryan drove his butt off tonight," Stewart added. "Really proud of all our guys and really proud of the whole organization."
Fifth-place in the Crown Royal 400 went to Phoenix race winner Mark Martin, while sophomore driver Sam Hornish Jr., scored a career-best sixth-place finish. Jamie McMurray, Gordon, Casey Mears and Juan Pablo Montoya comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were a race-tying 15 caution periods for 79 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the May 9 Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.