Sprint Cup - Stewart Race Report
Bristol, Mar. 18, 2012: It’s rare when Tony Stewart is happy with a 14th-place finish, but considering his performances of late at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Stewart’s 14th-place run in the Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday was a welcome reprieve.
“Really proud of Steve (Addington, crew chief) and proud of our guys,” said Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). “They worked hard all day and fought through it all day.”
Stewart was poised to finish among the top-10 until an out-of-control Brendan Gaughan tagged him in turn three on lap 479, sending Stewart’s Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy backward into the SAFER Barrier that lines the outside retaining wall.
“Brendan came down and told me and all of my guys sorry, which we really appreciated,” Stewart said. “He went down into (turn three) and the brake pedal went to the floor. It’s kind of good that I was there to somewhat slow him down a little bit, but at the same time, we had a top-10 run going there, which for the way we’ve run here the last couple trips, it’s a big improvement.”
Stewart’s results at the .533-mile bullring have been feast and famine – and more famine in recent years. With the exception of a second-place finish in March 2010, Stewart’s best Bristol result in his last six trips to the east Tennessee oval was 17th in August 2009.
The 52nd annual Food City 500 still proved to be a chore for Stewart and Co., but the reigning Sprint Cup champions persevered all weekend, overcoming their 23rd-place starting spot to crack the top-10 after 380 laps.
Part of that battle to crack the top-10 involved a spirited duel with eventual race winner Brad Keselowski to stay on the lead lap. Stewart raced the driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge for nearly 20 laps around lap 300, eventually succumbing to Keselowski’s blistering pace.
But Stewart hung tough, maintaining his spot as the first car one lap down. And when the caution flag waved on lap 341, Stewart was awarded the “Lucky Dog” to earn his lap back.
As the last car on the lead lap, Stewart took the opportunity to improve his car during back-to-back pit stops on laps 343 and 367, respectively. The adjustments ordered by crew chief Steve Addington worked. By lap 390, Stewart was working over polesitter Greg Biffle for ninth place.
“This was a race just to stay on the lead lap,” Stewart said. “When we finally got the caution – there were only 15 of us at the time that were on the lead lap.
“Normally, 14th isn’t something we’re too happy about, but compared to how we’ve been, I thought we made big gains on it today.”