Tony Stewart will never know what might have been in the GoBowling.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, where varying pit strategies ruled the day. The driver of the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) was collected in a multicar accident on lap 117 and was left with a 36th-place finish.
“It (the wreck) was far enough ahead of us that I never even saw how it started,” said Stewart, a two-time Sprint Cup winner at Pocono (June 2003 and June 2009). “We were just coming off of (turn) two there and somebody got sideways. They started wrecking in front of us, and we got caught up in it. I ended up on top of Paul Menard’s hood, so it wasn’t where we wanted to end up with our Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy, by any means.”
Stewart arrived in Pocono as one of the drivers to watch after an outstanding showing during the track’s June race, where he led four times for 24 laps before a pit-road speeding penalty derailed his chances for a win.
When the green flag dropped for the series’ second stop of the season at Pocono, Stewart took a conservative approach rather than making a mad dash for the front, noting early that the No. 14 Chevrolet was turning well through the corners, but needed more security in the rear of the car.
Because pit strategies tend to run the gamut at the “Tricky Triangle,” there was a lot of back-and-forth in the running order throughout the race. Stewart’s No. 14 team was just one of a handful that elected to make a pit stop during the first caution on lap 10, with strategies ranging from fuel-only stops to two- and four-tire stops. Crew chief Chad Johnston elected to change right-side tires, placing Stewart 27th for the lap-13 restart. By the time the team made its second stop of the day – during the third caution period on lap 30 – Stewart was up to 11th place.
For the most part, only minor adjustments were required on the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet. Changing weather conditions throughout the day affected the way the car responded to the track, and Stewart would report tight and loose handling at different stages of the race. The most disconcerting problem to plague Stewart was a perceived problem with a wheel hub during a green-flag run from laps 70 to 100. Stewart noted that the issue gave the car the feeling of being “bound” getting into the turns. A pit stop for four tires, a wedge adjustment and fuel, however, seemed to alleviate the problem.
Stewart was in the top-15 on lap 117 when driver Denny Hamlin got loose, causing problems for other drivers racing in his vicinity. A handful of cars made hard contact, blocking the track and giving Stewart nowhere to go to avoid the collision. After getting bounced around, Stewart’s Chevy eventually came to rest on top of Paul Menard’s No. 27 Chevrolet.
While the damage was extensive, the No. 14 team worked to get the car back on the track to collect valuable points. The effort enabled Stewart to pick up two positions in the running order and finish the race.