It was a far cry from the domination Tony Stewart laid down last year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon when the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet finished second and first, respectively, in the two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at the 1.058-mile oval. But Stewart’s 12th-place finish in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday still provided yet another example of Stewart’s tenacity behind the wheel of a racecar.
Stewart started 10th in the 301-lap race and rose to eighth after just 15 laps. But that was as high as Stewart would climb on the leaderboard. His Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy quickly became a handful, with Stewart describing it as a “soapy dishrag.” The car wallowed through the corners with an overall lack of grip. Goodyear brought a new tire to New Hampshire, and Stewart and crew chief Steve Addington struggled with its nuances. What worked so well in 2011 did not work nearly as well in 2012.
“The balance of our car was never bad,” Stewart said. “It was actually pretty good. We just had no grip out there. Steve made one last change there at the end, and it definitely helped. We were finally able to make up some ground.”
After falling off the lead lap, Stewart and Addington used a caution period on lap 191 to take advantage of NASCAR’s “wave-around” rule, where any car that doesn’t pit under caution can get a lap back if every car on the lead lap does pit.
When the race restarted on lap 197, Stewart was still mired in 19th but back on the lead lap.
Stewart continued to manhandle his racecar until the team’s final pit stop on lap 235 during the race’s third and final caution period. Addington took a big swing at the car’s handling, ordering a track bar adjustment and two spring rubbers out of the right-front and left-front wheel assemblies.
The impact was noticeable, as Stewart began to rally. After starting 16th when the race restarted on lap 240, Stewart climbed all the way to 11th with less than 50 laps to go. Just ahead of him in 10th was his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate, Ryan Newman. The duo ran together until lap 260 when Jimmie Johnson passed Stewart and dropped him to 12th. Stewart, however, hung tough and held the position right through the final lap.
Newman came home 10th to collect his second straight top-10 finish and fifth this season. The driver of the Army ROTC Chevrolet also picked up his 14th top-10 in 21 career Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire.
Kasey Kahne won the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 to score his 14th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at New Hampshire. With the victory, Kahne moved into the No. 1 wild-card position with seven races left before the 10-race, 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set. He has more victories than any other driver outside the top-10 in series points, as the final two wild-card entrants come from the two drivers among the top-20 in points who have the most victories.
Denny Hamlin finished 2.738 seconds behind Kahne in the runner-up spot, while Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five. Jeff Gordon, Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
The three caution periods tallied 15 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish.
With round 19 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He dropped two spots to seventh and has 618 points, 89 back of series leader Matt Kenseth and one point ahead of eighth-place Martin Truex Jr. with a 51-point cushion over 11th-place Carl Edwards. Newman climbed one spot to 14th and has 536 points, 171 behind Kenseth and 77 behind 10th-place Keselowski.
The Sprint Cup Series takes a rare weekend off before returning to action Sunday, July 29 for the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at noon.