Tony Stewart was quick, but not quick enough, and finished second in the Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
Stewart, the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 5.393 seconds behind winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led five times for a race-high 95 laps.
“I’m really proud of our Office Depot/Mobil 1 guys,” Stewart said. “We did the Bristol (Motor Speedway) test on Tuesday and Wednesday, so we have been in a track 11 out of 12 days in a row. So I’ve got a bunch of tired crew guys and a tired crew chief and I’m a tired driver, but I’m really proud of the effort they put forth in the last week and a half. They did an awesome job at Pocono. We had a fast car all week (at Michigan) until the happy hour session last night, and you know, we just couldn’t get a hold of the racetrack.
“But I’m really proud of Steve Addington (crew chief) and our engineers. They did a great job overnight, and we started the day pretty much toward the front and never really lost that track position all day. We had a pretty good car that we could pass with. It was hard to pass, but it wasn’t impossible.”
Stewart, who started eighth, knew immediately he liked his car. He stayed in the top-10 for nearly the entire event and took the lead from laps 87-104. With few changes needed on his well-handling racecar, it appeared Stewart was in the hunt for victory all day long. But he never could catch Earnhardt down the stretch. Earnhardt led the final 30 laps, easily distancing himself from Stewart in the closing laps as the final 60 laps were caution-free.
“We were 27th quick on the (practice) sheet yesterday,” said Stewart, who has 19 top-10 finishes in 27 career Sprint Cup starts at Michigan and has led 224 laps overall. “So we had a lot of curve balls thrown our way, but I was really proud of Steve Addington and these guys. It’s amazing what one night and those guys thinking and what they came up with. It just was a totally different race car today.”
The curve ball came Friday evening, when officials from NASCAR and Goodyear announced a harder left-side tire would be used during the race due to blistering tires during practice Thursday and Friday on the freshly paved 2-mile oval. The tires were shipped from Charlotte, N.C., overnight and arrived Saturday.
“I think we need to give 100 percent credit to Goodyear for this weekend,” Stewart said. “I mean, what they had to do Friday night was a really hard decision – it was a hard decision to make. It was for the betterment of all of us as drivers and teams and for the sport. So every one of us need to walk through the garage and stop at Goodyear and shake every one of their guys’ hands, because there were a lot of guys that worked really hard yesterday just getting the tires inside the track. They had to load them in the back of pickup trucks because they didn’t get here before qualifying started. They were trucking in tires, literally in the back of pick-ups, to get them in, and there were a lot of Goodyear technicians that were mounting and dismounting and balancing a lot of tires. Without those guys’ effort, we would not have had the show that we had today.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet for SHR, came home 15th to score his ninth top-15 finish of 2012.
Earnhardt’s victory in the Quicken Loans 400 broke a 143-race winless streak. His last victory came June 15, 2008, and was also at Michigan. Today’s win marked the 19th Sprint Cup victory of his career and his second at Michigan.
Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five behind Earnhardt and Stewart. Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for a total of 39 laps, with 12 drivers failing to finish the 200-lap race, the start of which was delayed approximately two hours due to rain.
With round 15 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He remained eighth with 491 points, 74 back of series leader Kenseth. Newman gained one position and sits 13th with 427 points, 138 points behind Kenseth.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday, June 24 at the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma, Calif. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m.