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Sprint Cup - Tony Stewart Race Report

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Sonoma, June 27, 2011: Tony Stewart rallied from his 20th-place starting spot to take the lead on lap 72 of Sunday’s 110-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) was yet again demonstrating his road-course prowess as he powered around the undulating, 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course in California’s wine country.

Stewart’s penchant for outperforming his rivals at venues that require drivers to turn left and right was on display in the Toyota/Save Mart 350k, but so was his penchant for laying down the law, no matter the consequences. As such, it left Stewart 39th when the checkered flag dropped.

It all began on lap 39 when Stewart touched the back of Brian Vickers’ Toyota heading into the treacherous final turn – a hairpin corner where bent fenders and hurt feelings go together like wine and cheese. Vickers spun around and collected numerous other cars while Stewart motored around the outside unscathed.

With an Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy that was much better than it had been in Friday’s qualifying round and in Saturday’s two practice sessions, Stewart wheeled his way to the front, giving the 93,000 people in attendance an understanding as to why he has a total of seven wins, 11 top-twos, 18 top-10s and 304 laps led in 24 previous road-course starts.

But with less than 25 laps to go, Stewart’s lawman mentality was about to be tested.

Vickers, whom Stewart nudged early in the race, was back in front of Stewart. As the pair sailed through the esses and down the chute leading to that final hairpin turn, Stewart shot underneath Vickers cleanly before jumping on the brakes to make his way around the corner.

As Stewart found another spot on his march to the front, Vickers found opportunity. His foot never hit the brake and he drilled Stewart so hard that both Stewart and Vickers went sliding into the corner’s tire barrier. Vickers nosed his Toyota into the wall, while Stewart’s machine spun backward and to the left, ultimately becoming upended on the stack of tires, with its rear wheels completely off the ground.

Stewart was stuck, and for what seemed like eons, remained there until safety crews removed his car from the wall. With all four wheels back on the ground, Stewart’s Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy dog-tracked its way down pit road. There would be no quick fixes, and crew chief Darian Grubb quickly ordered the car to the garage whereupon the crew made a valiant effort to get it back on track.

Stewart eventually returned to the track, but his car was too battered and beaten to cover the course safely. He returned to the garage area for good, posting his first DNF (Did Not Finish) in 25 career road-course starts. Prior to Sunday, Stewart’s lap completion rate on road courses was 100 percent.

Afterward, a calm and collected Stewart climbed from his car and explained the events of the day.

“I dumped him (Vickers) earlier for blocking and he got me back later on,” said Stewart succinctly. “If they block, they are going to get dumped. It’s real simple. I mean I don’t blame him. I don’t blame him for dumping us back. But, I don’t race guys that way, I never have. If guys want to block, then they are going to get wrecked every time. Until NASCAR makes a rule against it, I am going to dump them every time for it. He did what he had to do. I don’t blame him. There is nothing wrong with it.

“I’ve been complaining about the way guys have been racing all year. I like Brian, I’m not holding it against him at all. But if guys want to block, that’s what’s going to happen to them every time for the rest of my career.

“I don’t know if it’s lack of respect or guys just pushing the envelope and not working with each other. There wasn’t any reason at the point of the race where he started blocking in the first place. It didn’t make sense to do it and I’m not going to tolerate it. I don’t race guys that way and I’m not going to let anybody race me that way. So if they block, they get dumped. Plain and simple.”

While Stewart laid down the law, his point standing suffered. He dropped one position to 12th and now has 460 points, 113 markers behind series leader Carl Edwards and 14 points ahead of 13th-place Greg Biffle.

His SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, lost two spots in the championship standings after finishing 25th. He’s currently 10th with 475 points, 98 markers back of the top spot and 12 points ahead of 11th-place Denny Hamlin.