News & Media


Stewart all sunshine after third-place run

September 06, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Doomsday statements after Michigan all in rear view mirror following late rally

This has not been the kind of summer Tony Stewart envisioned.

"If [Atlanta Motor Speedway president] Ed Clark decides to repave this race track, I'll personally shoot him myself. This place is so racy, so much fun. "

--TONY STEWART

He finished 27th at Watkins Glen, a track at which he's been dominant. He looked lost a week ago at Bristol, starting the race at the back of the pack and getting lapped early, leading to a 28th-place finish.

And at one point, a frustrated Stewart said the way his team was going, if he made the Chase, he'd be taking up a spot instead of someone else more worthy. He's only gone this late in the season without a win one other time in his career.

Stewart's disposition could have been as dreary as the weather that hung over Atlanta Motor Speedway all weekend. But after finishing third in Tuesday's rain-soaked AdvoCare 500, he was beaming like the sunshine that was hidden away behind the dark clouds.

And a lot of his sunny disposition stemmed from the tire-eating, slick-as-grease asphalt surface that removes aero push and fuel economy from the equation.

"If [Atlanta Motor Speedway president] Ed Clark decides to repave this race track, I'll personally shoot him myself," Stewart said. "This place is so racy, so much fun.

"More so than anywhere we go to, you actually have to take care of your tires and budget them for your run. And that's what makes it fun here because guys overdrive their cars, run too hard on the front [end of a run] and then they fall off the last half."

Stewart started 20th but quickly worked his way into the top five within 20 laps and into the top three by Lap 60. But a series of mist delays, coupled with pit stops that jumbled the field at times, put Stewart back in midpack with about 100 laps remaining.

When things settled down after several quick cautions -- the final 81 laps were run under green -- Stewart's car came on like gangbusters.

"Man, we had an awesome car at the end," Stewart said. "[We were] gaining eight and a half seconds on the leader there, definitely an awesome run. And we had a lot of guys we got back in those last 10 laps."

And even more importantly, it gives Stewart two things: a bit of positive momentum and a 23-point cushion over Brad Keselowski for 10th place with one race to go before the Chase field is set.

"Once we leave here, what we get here doesn't mean anything next week as far as performance," Stewart said. "But those points are big going into next week for sure. ... We definitely gained a couple on him today. And it may come down to one point. Having the strong finish that we had may be the difference of making it or not making it next week.

"So I wish what we did here transferred over to Richmond next week, but it doesn't. But I'm really proud of the effort that everybody gave this week."

Stewart was almost as happy for teammate Ryan Newman, who clinched a Chase berth despite finishing 20th. All along, Stewart believed his team could pull off this kind of effort. But as the summer wore on, it's been harder and harder to imagine the No. 14 Chevrolet chasing down the top contenders, let alone running up front.

On Tuesday, when the weather was almost fall-like, it was like the start of a new season for Stewart.

"I'm really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing for their dedication," Stewart said. "They keep persevering and pushing it to make it better each week. It's been a tough last couple of months."