Sprint Cup - Tony Stewart Race Report
Sparta, July 10, 2011: For many drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, a solid top-15 finish is something they can hang their helmet on. It may not be flashy, but it is respectable and provides a decent amount of points toward the season-ending championship.
Tony Stewart, however, is not most drivers, as his two Sprint Cup titles and 39 career wins attest. So after finishing 12th while being strong enough to lead a lap and run solidly among the top-five, Stewart was in no mood to celebrate a 12th-place finish – the result he earned in Saturday night’s inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
“We just couldn’t get going on the restarts,” Stewart said. “Beyond frustrating.”
Stewart was alluding to two late-race restarts – one on lap 260 and another on lap 264 – where his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 “Back-to-School” Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) simply could not get powered up as quickly as his counterparts.
“We were good late in a run – our laps times were just as good, if not better than, the leaders,” Stewart said. “But that didn’t help us at the end.”
Stewart ran well enough to lead lap 159 in a stirring battle with eventual race-winner Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. Busch was obviously strong, as was Keselowski, but Stewart was in the mix, running second with 100 laps to go.
But with less than 35 laps remaining, varying pit strategies were playing out. Stewart started the green-flag pit cycle on lap 233 with a four-tire change and fuel. Most everyone else behind him took either two tires and fuel or just fuel. As a result, it put Stewart in 11th when the race’s second-to-last restart began on lap 260. Stewart was able to gain one spot before the caution flag flew once more when Clint Bowyer crashed in turn two of the 1.5-mile oval. As such, Stewart restarted in 10th for the final time on lap 266, but faded to 12th when the checkered flag waved.