The incredibly fast Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn has long been known to be hard on engines, as the sustained rpms necessary to lap the 2-mile oval at speeds nearing 200 mph often pushes mechanical parts and pieces to their breaking points.
Such was the case for Tony Stewart, as a broken valve spring within the engine of his No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet relegated him to a 32nd-place finish in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday.
“It’s not something that’s the norm,” said Stewart after recording his first DNF (Did Not Finish) in 42 races. “I appreciate everybody at the Hendrick engine department. We had three different engine tuners down there trying to get it fixed for us. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. It’s not something I’m concerned about. It’s just a bad day. We have the best engine department in the world, definitely in this series, and they did everything they could do.”
Just after the race hit the lap-50 mark, Stewart radioed crew chief Steve Addington that he felt his engine was flat whenever he attempted to accelerate off the track’s corners. The problem didn’t improve, and when the caution came out on lap 65, Stewart brought his car to the attention of his crew on pit road. Two laps later, Stewart was in the garage, where a broken valve spring was deemed the culprit.
Crew members shut down the cylinder with the broken valve spring, with the hope being that Stewart could nurse his Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy to the finish on only seven cylinders.
It worked, but only for awhile. The temporary fix proved to be just that, as Stewart pulled back into the garage on lap 119.
Another flurry of activity took place beneath the hood of the No. 14 machine, and on lap 151 Stewart returned to the track. His time on the track proved to be short-lived, however, as his seven cylinders were no match for the cars with healthy V-8s that surrounded him.
After staying out long enough to overtake T.J. Bell for 32nd (Bell had fallen out of the race earlier with a broken transmission), Addington called Stewart to the garage area for good with still 20 laps remaining.
“You’ve got to do the best you can to get everything you can get,” said Stewart, who won his third Sprint Cup title last year in the closest championship battle in series history. “We saw last year how one point can make a difference. You just try to get everything you can get.”
Emulating that notion was Stewart’s teammate, Ryan Newman. The driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) finished eighth to score his eighth top-10 finish of 2012 and his seventh top-10 in 23 career Sprint Cup starts at Michigan. It also kept him in the second wild-card spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with three races to go before the Chase begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
With round 23 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He fell one spot to ninth and has 728 points, 95 back of new series leader Greg Biffle and one point ahead of 10th-place Denny Hamlin with a 34-point cushion over 11th-place Kasey Kahne. Newman remained 13th in the standings and has 680 points, 143 behind Biffle and 47 behind Hamlin.
Only the top-10 in points are locked into the 12-driver, 10-race Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points who have the most wins. In the event of multiple drivers having the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kahne holds the 11th-place wild-card spot thanks to his two victories, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Newman has the 12th-place wild-card spot by virtue of his April 1 victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, combined with his 13th-place position in the point standings, which is higher than his fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points – Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano.
Biffle earned the point lead by winning the Pure Michigan 400. It was his 18th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his third at Michigan.
Brad Keselowski finished .416 of a second behind Biffle in the runner-up spot, while Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Ambrose rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Newman, Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 35 laps, with 15 drivers failing to finish the 201-lap race, which was extended one lap from its scheduled distance by a green-white-checkered finish.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Irwin Tools Night Race on Saturday, Aug. 25 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.