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In the Rearview: What a week for 'Smoke'

July 29, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com

In the Rearview: What a week for 'Smoke'
Celebration goes from dirt to asphalt; plus Chase breakdown, quotes and video

SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Tony Stewart finally took a breather late Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, capping a whirlwind week of playing the roles of track promoter, race-car driver and team owner. Remarkably, he was able to claim success on all three fronts.

Stewart was buoyant at the Brickyard with good reason, watching Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman prevail in the Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard, notching his first victory at the historic 2.5-mile track in his home state. The win came one day after Newman scored the 50th Coors Light Pole Award of his career, making it two straight days that he got the better of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Jimmie Johnson.

Stewart wound up fourth in Sunday’s 400-miler, marking his sixth straight top-10 finish at Indianapolis. By moving up two spots to 11th in the standings, he also heads to next week’s event at Pocono Raceway at the top of the class in the race for the two Wild Card berths in the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason.

“I think we still have some work to do. It's proof that we can do it,” Stewart said after posting his fifth top-five finish in 20 races this season. “Ryan is proof that our organization can do it. We’ve just got to hit on it. Even though we ran fourth today, it's a confidence boost for us on the 14 team, as well, to know we have the tools in place of accomplishing the goal. It's just a matter of getting there.”

Stewart’s weekend at Indy began with a head of steam after his overwhelmingly raved-about hosting of the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on dirt, held Wednesday at Eldora Speedway, a half-mile track he owns just two hours from Indianapolis in Rossburg, Ohio.

Sunday’s race was the final Brickyard for Stewart and Newman as teammates, a hard decision the team owner announced two weeks ago at New Hampshire. Although Stewart wasn’t able to convert his Sunday drive into a third Brickyard victory, watching fellow Hoosier and longtime friend Newman enjoy his first Indy triumph was a true prize without a consolation.

“I didn't think it would feel this good as an owner,” Stewart said. “Because it's Ryan and a good friend of mine, that's the gratifying part.”

Tear down

Dramatic drop: Clint Bowyer was barely a factor in Sunday’s 400 at the Brickyard, leading a single lap and coming home 20th as one of the last cars on the lead lap. While he kept his second-place ranking in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, his deficit to race runner-up Jimmie Johnson grew from 56 to 75 points. If Johnson is able to add 21 points to his advantage next week, he’d be able to take two races off and still retain at least a share of the points lead.

Pendulum swing: Jeff Burton’s third-place finish in the series’ most recent race at New Hampshire left him recharged and announcing his long-shot candidacy for a Chase berth. Sunday at Indy, the wind fell from Burton’s sails after he slowed with a mechanical failure in the drivetrain, relegating him to last in the 43-car field.

Big mover: Martin Truex Jr. claimed one special distinction Sunday at Indianapolis as the biggest gainer from qualifying on race day. He started 38th and drove all the way to an 11th-place finish, a feat made even more noteworthy by the lack of opportunities to gain track position through caution periods.

Inside the numbers

49: The number of consecutive races without a Sprint Cup victory for Ryan Newman before Sunday’s win in the Samuel Deeds 400. Newman was also stuck on 49 career poles before collecting his 50th Coors Light Pole Award in Saturday’s qualifying.

3: The number of drivers who have won NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races from the pole position at Indianapolis. Newman added his name to a list that includes Kevin Harvick (2003) and Jimmie Johnson (2008).

4: The number of top-10 finishes this season for Juan Pablo Montoya, who drove to a ninth-place effort Sunday. The quartet of top-10s is double the total that Montoya scored all last season in the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

They said it

“It’s a dream come true. It won’t hit you in five minutes, it won’t hit you in five hours, but maybe in five days come back to me.” -- Ryan Newman

“Second is never fun, especially at the Brickyard. Bummed out with that, but stuff happens.” -- Jimmie Johnson

“If you want to see passing, we can go out on (Interstate) 465 and pass all you want. If you can tell me that's more exciting than what you see at IMS, the great race-car drivers that have competed here ... this is about racing. This is about cars being fast. It doesn't have to be two‑ and three‑wide racing all day long to be good racing.” -- Tony Stewart

Chase watch

Two-car push: As if aerodynamically linked, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart each made a synchronized two-position leap in the Sprint Cup points standings to 10th and 11th respectively. Gordon now holds the final berth for the 10 automatic qualifiers for NASCAR’s playoffs; Stewart holds the top Wild Card spot, with a win in hand from Dover earlier this year helping his cause.

Hello, Newman: The victory did more for Ryan Newman than provide boosts in prestige, bragging rights and emotion. It also helped him gain three positions in the Sprint Cup standings up to 16th place. Further, Newman also jumped to third in the Wild Card race, behind leader Stewart and second-place Martin Truex Jr., a winner earlier this season at Sonoma Raceway.

Coming up

NASCAR’s premier series makes its second trip this season to Pocono Raceway, where Jimmie Johnson dominated the first time around, leading 128 of 160 laps to win from the pole position. The Nationwide Series will make its second trip of the year to Iowa Speedway on Saturday night, while the Camping World Truck Series will hold its only race of the season on the triangular Pocono layout Saturday afternoon.