Tony Stewart overcame a poor starting position and flat tires to finish 11th in the Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
After starting 27th in the 43-car field, Stewart drove his No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) up to 16th. But contact during some hard racing among a gaggle of cars after a lap-53 restart pushed the left-side fenders in on the tires of Stewart’s No. 14 machine.
Smoke began emanating from beneath his racecar, and it was quickly diagnosed as a left-side tire rub. As Stewart wheeled his Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy at 135 mph around the 1.058-mile oval, the tires eventually succumbed to the friction.
The left-side tires went flat as Stewart entered turn one, and displaying the kind of driving that made him a three-time Sprint Cup champion, Stewart deftly kept his car off the wall. But the trip back to pit road was a long one, and with the front scraping along the pavement, subsequent trips to pit road were needed to repair the splitter and left-side skirts and fenders.
The pit crew worked quickly to keep Stewart on the lead lap. Nonetheless, when Stewart returned to the track and green-flag racing resumed on lap 65, he was mired in 38th place.
Undeterred, Stewart went to work regaining the lost track position. He rose to 27th by lap 85 and climbed to 26th just after lap 100. The leaders, meanwhile, were setting scorching times, and by lap 120, Stewart was in danger of going a lap down.
Thankfully, a timely caution came on lap 121 when Alex Bowman scrapped the turn three wall. This allowed Stewart to stay on the lead lap and get four fresh tires and fuel.
When the race went back to green, Stewart went back to picking off positions. He climbed to 16th before another caution came out on lap 193 for debris. There, crew chief Chad Johnston made a savvy call for right-side tires and fuel. This vaulted Stewart to sixth when the race restarted on lap 197.
While Stewart didn’t have the strongest car among the top-10, his tenacious driving allowed him to stay there until another caution on lap 239.
Johnston called Stewart to pit road for what would be his last stop of the day. Other drivers, however, stayed out on the track in an attempt to stretch their fuel mileage to the finish.
With differing pit strategies playing out, Stewart dropped to 16th when the race restarted for the final time on lap 243.
Stewart held steady in this position until the last 15 laps, whereupon drivers ahead of him began pitting for enough fuel to get them to the finish. As drivers pitted, Stewart moved up. And when other drivers began running out of fuel on the penultimate and final laps, Stewart was the benefactor, crossing the stripe in 11th.“We worked hard for that finish,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we overcame a lot to get it. I’m proud of this team for everything they put into this weekend and this race.”