Stewart Needs Strong Brickyard Finish To Strengthen Chase Bid
Tony Stewart did what any true racer would do, and that’s go for the victory rather than play it safe in the points Sunday, July 14 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But when a late-race caution flag ensured the contest would go into green-white-checkered overtime, Stewart’s fuel evaporated.
Instead of an apparent win, Stewart finished 26th.
That makes the Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com on Sunday, July 28 – NASCAR’s annual visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – crucial to Stewart’s quest to make The Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
The decision to go for the win likely would have paid off if not for the extra laps of caution and the green-white-checkered finish. But that decision turned into a gamble, and now Stewart is out of the top 10 in points and automatically qualification for “The Chase.”
NASCAR Sprint Cup takes its last off weekend of the season before heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where there will be just seven races left to determine the 12 drivers that make “The Chase.”
Stewart is 13th in points, 178 behind leader and four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson, who is attempting to win his sixth Sprint Cup championship this season. But Stewart is only five points out of The Chase, as the two drivers ahead of him – Martin Truex Jr. and four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon, are all two points out of 10th place. Stewart also has one win, which makes him eligible for one of the two Wild Card positions in The Chase.
Stewart knew it was a gamble to go for the victory at New Hampshire. But he also knew if he pitted, he would be doomed to a mediocre finish or worse.
“I was pretty nervous,” Stewart said. “I mean, it’s hard to calculate how much we are saving on the cautions, so we thought we were about three-quarters of a lap to the good there before that last caution. I obviously didn’t get saved as much as I thought we would.”
Brian Vickers went on to win the race for Michael Waltrip Racing, completing a tremendous comeback over a health issue he experienced two seasons ago. Stewart admitted even if the race had not included the extra laps of overtime and had finished under green at the scheduled distance, Vickers was a major threat to win the race.
“Yeah, I know if he got by Kyle (Busch) that we were going to be in trouble,” Stewart said. “He had been able to stalk Kyle for a really long time. It was hard to stay that close to somebody for very long. I knew when he got by that we were in trouble.
“We had a good car all day. I was pretty excited because we were much better than we were yesterday (in practice). We got caught in traffic early on, but with some pit strategy, we got up front and stayed there. Track position was pretty important. We didn’t have the best car, by any means. Even the ones who had the best cars, it looked like they had trouble passing, so track position was key. We weren’t going to win the race, but if we hadn’t run out of fuel, we were going to run second.”
While that was the battle on the track, there was a war of words off it that stemmed from an earlier crash involving Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman of South Bend, Ind. After finishing second to Vickers in the race, Kyle Busch defended his older brother and took aim at Newman calling him “the biggest stupid idiot out here” and “an ogre.”
Newman retaliated earlier this week during an interview on SiriusXM Radio, saying about Busch, "It is what it is. We know he's not very bright. He's a heck of a talent, but not very bright."
So, could payback loom between these two at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
The Newman-Kurt Busch wreck occurred on Lap 226 of 302. It turned a potential win into a 31st-place finish that dropped Kurt from ninth to 14th in the standings. Ironically, Kurt Busch didn't mention Newman after the incident but said he got hit from behind.
Newman tried to explain his role in the crash.
“We just got whacked by a bunch of guys,” Newman said. “The No. 18 (Kyle Busch) hit me first, the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) hit me next, and then I guess it was Kurt (Busch) that went underneath three-wide and by passed the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) come and clipped us and knocked us into the fence and took himself out. That was the best I could tell. I don’t know. I guess the No. 20 had a little influence on it.
“We kind of were in a bad spot having a little bit older tires. We didn’t have the greatest car, but have to thank Wix’s for jumping on board and sponsoring us. That is not the press we wanted to give them, but just a lot of disrespect from a bunch of guys on restarts.
“What comes around goes around.”
After such harsh words it’s probably a good idea NASCAR Sprint Cup has the weekend off. But with the potential of some on-track fireworks, this year’s NASCAR race at the Brickyard certainly could have more than its fair share of extra action, making it at “can’t-miss race” this summer.
Even if Newman isn’t the man “between the Busches,” there are other dramatic storylines that will unfold next weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including Stewart’s quest to turn around his disappointment at New Hampshire and Gordon’s quest to solidify his season, get back in the top 10 and qualifying for the Chase.
Gordon could go a long way toward accomplishing that if he creates a Brickyard first – the first NASCAR driver to win the Brickyard five times. Johnson also could increase his championship points lead if he becomes the first driver to win this event five times.