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Stewart's Tight Car Leads To Top-20 At Bristol

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Bristol, March, 20, 2011: After three strong outings in the season’s first three races, Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 team of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) had high expectations heading to the high-banked, half-mile oval that is Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. But those expectations were brought back down to Earth when Stewart finished 19th in Sunday’s Jeff Byrd 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

“We just never really got the handling right during the race,” said Stewart, who managed to set quick time in practice on Saturday. “We felt good going into the race, and even though the car didn’t feel great at the start – like it was up on top of the racetrack – we were decent enough to run in the top-10.

“But it took awhile for the car to balance itself out. It just started off way too tight, and then when I’d come off the corner and go across where the rubber had built up, it was just too loose. We tried to adjust it, but at the end we were plowing tight. Pretty frustrating, really.”

Stewart started the 500-lap contest from 13th in the 43-car field and rose to as high as fourth after a savvy call by crew chief Darian Grubb for right-side tires only during the team’s first pit stop on lap 53. Stewart wasn’t able to stay in the top-five after the lap-57 restart, but he only dropped to ninth as his SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, led laps 58-83.

But as the event wore on, staying within the top-10 became a challenge. And with a blistering pace being set by the leaders that saw only 20 cars on the lead lap with 100 circuits remaining, staying on the lead lap became difficult.

Stewart went a lap down briefly, but a timely caution on lap 429 earned him the “lucky dog,” the free pass that goes to the first car one lap down. But with only 65 laps to go with the leaders turning 16-second lap times around the .533-mile oval, Stewart and his ill-handling racecar were in no position to make any gains. They finished 19th, the last car on the lead lap.