Tony Stewart was at his best when it mattered the most – at the end of the Pocono 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at the newly paved Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), started 22nd and finished third – the highest position he was in all day – in the first Sprint Cup race at Pocono since the event was shortened from 500 to 400 miles.
“It was a good finish for our Mobil 1 / Office Depot Chevy,” said Stewart, who has 19 top-10 finishes in 27 career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono. “It was pretty hard to pass all day, but it kind of normally is. I don’t think it was really any worse than it normally is. But it seemed like the end of the race it got pretty racy there, and guys could move around a little bit. All in all, for a freshly paved track, it was a pretty good race. It was frustrating the first half of the race until guys got their cars better. You really just kind of got stuck, and then it seemed like the longer the race went, the easier it got to pass toward the end.”
Stewart started the race with a car that was loose entering and exiting the turns, while tight in the middle. Crew chief Steve Addington worked on the car’s handling throughout the first half of the race through a series of chassis and tire pressure adjustments. By the halfway point of the event, Stewart’s car was much more to his liking.
From there, three-time and reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Stewart began working his way toward the front and gained several positions on restarts in the latter half of the race.
“The restarts were insane, but you had to take full advantage of them,” Stewart said. “That was the biggest opportunity to make gains and definitely big gains. You could get three or four at a time if somebody got bottled up a little bit. You had to be on your toes for the restarts, for sure.”
Stewart restarted fifth on lap 143 and quickly moved up to third but could never get close enough to challenge eventual winner Joey Logano or runner-up Mark Martin.
“Congrats to Joey and the 20 guys,” Stewart said. “I’m really happy for them.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet for SHR, finished 12th.
Logano’s win in the Pocono 400 was his second career Sprint Cup series victory, first of the season and first at Pocono. His only other victory was on June 28, 2009 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Martin finished .997 of a second behind Logano in the runner-up spot, while Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were seven caution periods for 35 laps, with 15 drivers failing to finish the 160-lap race.
With round 14 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He is eighth and has 448 points, 75 back of new series leader Kenseth. Newman lost one position and now sits 14th with 398 points, which puts him 125 points behind Kenseth. Newman has the same amount of points as 15th-place Logano but edges him in a tiebreaker. Both have one win apiece this season, but Newman’s fourth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway breaks a tie with Logano, whose next-best finish this season was eighth last week at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.