Progress is what Tony Stewart has sought during this NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and that’s exactly what he found Sunday in the Windows 10 400 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) finished ninth despite running out of gas on the final lap of the 160-lap race. It was Stewart’s 23rd top-10 in 34 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2.5-mile triangle and his second top-10 of 2015.
“We struggled the first part of the race with our Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, but we got better the last third (of the race),” said Stewart, a two-time Sprint Cup winner at Pocono. “I felt really good about the car at the end of the race, and that’s been our weakness all year.
“I think we’re starting to kind of get a read on this thing a little bit. I’m not going to say after two weeks that we’ve got it figured out, because that would be very premature, but at least this weekend we got going a lot better than we had been. I’m hopeful the rest of it will start to come around a little bit. And at least this is some momentum.”
Stewart qualified fifth, his second-consecutive top-five start after qualifying fourth last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The three-time Sprint Cup champion struggled early at Pocono, noting that his car was handling on the tight side in the center of each of the track’s three turns. It was an issue that would be alleviated through a combination of chassis adjustments on successive stops. Each adjustment was subtle, but enough to improve the overall balance of the car. Stewart reported his car was “pretty good” just past the halfway point.
Varying pit strategies throughout the race, however, served to camouflage the efforts. Stewart found himself on a different pit sequence than the race leaders, keeping him mired between 20th and 25th in the 43-car field. But the combination of a fast car and his experience negotiating Pocono’s quirky layout, Stewart overcame the disadvantage in the final third of the race, cracking the top-20 by lap 100 and the top-15 by lap 130.With just five laps to go, many drivers who were attempting to stretch their fuel mileage lost their gamble, enabling Stewart to climb as high as third before running out of fuel himself on the final lap. Unlike many of the race leaders, Stewart was able to cross the finish line, locking up his top-10 finish.