Tony Stewart struggles to get up to speed in 2015.
AVONDALE, Ariz. – While Kurt Busch challenged Kevin Harvick for the point at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, their teammate and team co-owner Tony Stewart was simply looking for a decent finish.
Stewart was having his best run of the season when he bounced off of the Turn 4 wall and ended up in the spin cycle after contact with Justin Allgaier.
Stewart restarted ninth following the sixth caution after starting 17th in the CampingWorld.com on Sunday. The No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevy had maintained a top 15 presence during the first 236 laps – but it was downhill from there.
Stewart restarted 28th when the race went green on Lap 242 when he blew a right front tire and slammed the frontstretch wall, ending his day with a 39th-place finish.
A different feel
In sharp contrast to the three-time champion, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates and fellow Cup champions Harvick and Busch had the two best cars in the field. Harvick dominated the race and won his second-straight event. Busch, making his return to the tour, maintained Harvick’s pace throughout segments of the race but a two-tire stop with 20 laps remaining in the event resulted in a fifth-place finish.
If we just put my stuff in Tony’s car, it would be hard to say that that would fix all the probems.
“I think right now you just have to zero in on what they’re fighting,” Harvick said. “We would do that regardless. As you look at the packages and how we all drive – they’re all drastically different in throttle traces and steering traces and feels whether it’s myself, Danica (Patrick) or Tony. Everybody wants something different in their cars.
“If we just put my stuff in Tony’s car, it would be hard to say that that would fix all the probems, I think right now everyone is in an analyzing phase, really trying to understand what we need to do to help and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Searching for answers
Stewart, who is 35th in the point standings following his second DNF of the season, declined comment following accident. During the race broadcast, pundits debated why the 43-year-old driver who has 43 wins but has yet to muster a finish better than 30th this season has yet to get up to speed.
Some question whether the champ is performing at 100 percent after breaking his right tibia and fibula in a sprint car wreck in August 2013 which required further surgery in the off-season. Others mention the changes to Stewart’s crew. His long-time crew chief and current SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli told Motor Racing Network that Stewart hasn’t acclimated to the new 2015 rules package.
On Sunday, Motorsport.com asked team co-owner Gene Haas about Stewart’s struggles. Haas’ reply was similar to Zipadelli’s.
He has a tremendous amount of talent to adapting to things quickly. I think it will take him just a little bit of time.
“Tony is a champion,” Haas said. “He's used to driving 800 horsepower alcohol sprint cars in mud, snail snot and whatever else is out there. He has a tremendous amount of talent to adapting to things quickly. I think it will take him just a little bit of time to adapt to this reduction of horsepower, which is probably something he doesn't like. That's kind of speculation.
“I think great drivers want as much horsepower as you can get. That's part of the thrill, is to be able to take these machines with 900 horsepower and get them to slide around these turns at speed. When you take that away, I guess the hope is that we have better racing. I think the drivers at the top end of this sport, you know, probably think that that makes it a different kind of car to drive, it doesn't take nearly as much pedal skills.”
Stewart has five wins between the next two tracks on the tour – Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville Speedway where he could turn things around. If not, the circuit will have a well-deserved off week after Martinsville which would Stewart’s team to regroup for the next stretch of races.
While Stewart may need seat time to acclimate to the changes to the car, Haas is convinced, Stewart “will be back”.
“He's a very adaptable driver,” Haas added. “He didn't get to this level by chance. Tremendous amount of skills. I think it just takes a little bit of time.”