Stewart laments after Sprint Unlimited: ‘Tonight is why I haven’t won the Daytona 500 yet’By Kelly Crandall
Tony Stewart acknowledged he had a pretty eventful Saturday night in the Sprint Unlimited. Mostly because of the positions he put himself and his competitors in, which he takes responsibility for.
Stewart finished fourth in the exhibition race held for former winners of the race as well as pole winners from 2012. His Mobil 1 / Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet was one of the fastest on track, challenging for the lead and showing the ability to go from the back of the pack to the front, repeatedly.
But 15 laps into the first segment Stewart made a mistake. Looking to jump in line in front of Marcos Ambrose he cut across the nose of the No. 9 and got sideways. The result was drivers behind Stewart reacting and creating a six-car wreck. Then late in the second segment he made contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. when Earnhardt Jr. made a move three-wide.
“I self-cleared myself in [turn] one and wasn’t. I don’t think I was clear obviously,” said Stewart afterwards about his night. “I clipped whoever was in third [Ambrose]. Dale Jr. came down to the middle and where he was at made me really tight. I got up into him and then I got into him and couldn’t get off of him, bounced off of him about three times.
“I made sure our spotter told him what happened, but I definitely was in enough interesting spots tonight for sure and most of them I put myself in.”
Stewart, who started 14th, won the first 30-lap segment. He was never far from the front and the second segment was no different, even after the contact with Earnhardt Jr. But Stewart credited NASCAR’s new car, the Gen6, saying that he was pretty impressed with how solid the car is and how the contact never changed his balance.
The third segment however, Stewart found himself in the tire tracks of eventual winner Kevin Harvick. Following the Budweiser Chevrolet for most of the final 20 laps before trying to make his move on the final lap. Stewart though, again put himself in the wrong position and was left to watch Harvick and others scoot away.
“Tonight is the reason why I haven’t won the Daytona 500 yet. I’m not sure where I’ve got to be on the last lap there and what to do,” he said. “We heard the Fords were ganging up and trying something.
“Then we saw the No. 22 [Joey Logano] on the bottom all of a sudden, so I went where I thought was the right place to be and we lost two spots with it. I would rather try something and it not work than stay and lose a bunch of spots and I would probably be more frustrated because I didn’t try something.”
Even still, Stewart felt he learned a lot ahead of next Sunday’s Daytona 500. A race, as he noted, he has yet to win. Fortunately, Stewart-Haas Racing has cars for Speedweeks which are fast and all have a shot to win the 55th annual event. That, above all else, is what Stewart is most proud of, even after a disappointing night.
“We’ve got really good race cars. I’m really proud of the Hendrick engine department and everybody at Stewart-Haas,” said the team owner. “To go through the winter these guys have gone through and trying to build cars at the last minute because of the shortage of parts and to bring two cars down here that are this fast.
“I’m really proud of our organization right now.”