After leading more than 80 laps, Smoke ends the night in 26th and out of gas
It wasn’t the ending for which he had hoped, nor the one he and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team expected.
A decision to pass on opportunities to pit in order to maintain track position had kept the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in the thick of the battle, and headed toward a potential win. But his car’s fuel cell ran dry during a green-white-checkered finish to Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301, leaving Stewart 26th in the 43-car field.
“We were a little bit to the good; we thought we were alright,” Stewart said.
Stewart took the lead after a stop for two tires and fuel during the day’s sixth caution between laps 203 and 207. Although opportunities cropped up five more times when the yellow flag appeared, Stewart opted to try and conserve fuel and maintain his front-running position.
For 84 laps, the effort paid dividends before a fast closing Brian Vickers took the lead with 15 laps remaining. The final caution that pushed the race one lap past its scheduled distance might have given him the opportunity to retake the lead, but Stewart’s car stumbled less than a lap from the finish, its fuel cell empty.
“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,” Stewart said. “Obviously didn’t get saved as much as I thought we would.”
The setback dropped Stewart from 10th to 13th in the points standings. With one victory this season (at Dover), he is second in the Wild Card standings that will determine who earns the final two positions in this year’s Chase For The Sprint Cup.
He is, however, only five points out of 10th.
“I knew if (Vickers) got by Kyle (Busch) that we were going to be in trouble,” Stewart said of the late-race run by the race winner.
“He had been able to stalk Kyle (running second) 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.”