News & Media

Points leader stumbles on concrete at Dover

October 03, 2011, Joe Menzer,

DOVER, Del. -- Poor qualifying effort puts Stewart, Grubb behind 8 ball; team now third in points

He arrived at the Monster Mile on a roll, leading the Chase for the Sprint Cup points standings and riding a wave of momentum produced by back-to-back victories.

Tony Stewart left Dover International Speedway in a hurry, anxious to get the 1-mile track in his rear-view mirror. Stewart stumbled badly on the concrete surface during the AAA 400 Sunday, struggling to a 25th-place finish that dropped him to third in the standings behind new co-leaders Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards (although Harvick, with four race victories to Edwards' one, holds the tie-breaker advantage).

"Finishing 25th is a moral victory, I guess, considering how bad we were and how far back we fell and how the race played out."


"When you run 25th and finish two laps down, I don't think you can assess [your day] as very good. We were terrible," Stewart said in the garage area shortly after climbing from his No. 14 Chevrolet.

Actually, it wasn't just Sunday that was bad for Stewart. The entire weekend proved to be a monumental struggle for the two-time Cup champion, who was slow during Friday's practice sessions and qualified poorly on Saturday, forcing him to start in the 28th position Sunday. When the handling was off in the car at the beginning of the race, he quickly fell one lap off the pace and engaged in a day-long losing battle to keep up with the faster race leaders.

"Obviously the main thing that put us behind was just our qualifying effort, and just starting so far back," said Darian Grubb, Stewart's crew chief. "When you do that and you have a hiccup, you're going to go a lap down pretty quick."

Although Stewart eventually finished two laps down, there was a brief window toward the middle of the race when Grubb thought perhaps he and his driver had hit on something that might enable them to pull a respectable finish out of the fire. Stewart was the first car one lap down at the time and needed the next caution to break at just the right time so he could get back on the lead lap.

It never happened.

"There were just a couple of circumstances there where we could have had everything work our way," Grubb said. "We did the wave-around; we pitted -- and then I think 12 laps later or something the caution fell when it was about five laps before the leaders would have had to start pitting. So we had a couple of scenarios where we could have helped ourselves out, but luck just didn't go our way.

"The biggest thing, though, was just that we don't have the concrete tracks figured out. It's obvious. At Bristol and Dover, we've just struggled for three years now with Tony there. We just need to figure out what we need to do. It's not because of a lack of effort. We're going to keep trying to find a few things and keep fighting."

Asked what his team struggled with the most, Stewart replied: "Just the whole package. Even when we got the balance halfway decent, the car didn't have speed. So we just missed it."

They weren't alone. The No. 14 team's Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, the No. 39 team of fellow Chaser Ryan Newman, also missed the mark and finished two laps down in 23rd.

"We just didn't have it right all weekend," said Newman, who remained 11th in the Chase standings and dropped 41 points behind the leaders. "We didn't have any grip, which caused us to have poor track position all day. We tried a number of adjustments and pit strategies, but nothing seemed to work in our favor.

"We're a much better team than where we finished [Sunday]. We have to put this weekend behind us and move on."

Grubb is all for that. He said he knew Sunday might be a struggle all along.

"We just wanted to make sure we didn't bleed too much. It's a rough place for us. We just wanted to get a good, solid top 10," Grubb said. "Finishing 25th is a moral victory, I guess, considering how bad we were and how far back we fell and how the race played out.

"So I'm proud of the team for never stopping; we kept fighting to try to get it better every run. We did a good job with that, and so did Tony."

Stewart and Sunday's race winner Kurt Busch both trail Harvick and Edwards by a mere nine points heading into the next race at Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile track where Stewart has won previously.

Grubb said he's excited about the team's performance on 1.5-mile tracks this season, especially after winning at one of them -- Chicagoland Speedway -- to open the 10-race Chase. Stewart followed that up with another victory at New Hampshire before Sunday's debacle, so it's not like he's fallen out of the championship hunt. He even owns the tie-breaker edge over Busch because he currently has more second-place finishes (two to Busch's one).

"We're very excited to go to Kansas, very excited to get out there and away from here," said Grubb, smiling. "Chicago and Kansas are pretty similar places, so we're really hoping a lot of the things that we had working for us [at Chicagoland] will work for us there, too."