Tony Stewart has had a rough season this year.Ã‚Â Coming close to a win so many times in the early season and then dealing with equipment failure and poor handling cars for the middle of the season, no one could have predicted that he would come out on top for the first race of the 2011 chase and show everyone what happens when you race every lap like it’s the last lap of the race.Ã‚Â Managing to save enough fuel to run a full 50 laps of green flag racing, Stewart out ran and out lasted the field as several of the top 10 cars faded and ran out of fuel at the end chaning the entire look of the leader board in the last half lap before the checkered flag.
“You hate to have to play the fuel-mileage game, but that’s just the way the caution came out,” Stewart said. “We came in and got fuel and Darian [Grubb] said we had to save a lap’s worth of fuel, but we had a whole run to do it.
“I felt like we had saved enough to get us to the end, but we came off Turn 2 after we got the checkered, and the fuel pressure was down to two pounds, and it stayed there until just shortly after we picked up the checkered flag at the flagstand.”
“We didn’t have anything to lose,” he said. “Where we’re at in the Chase right now, we had to press.”
Stewart had all but counted himself out of the chase earlier in the week saying that his team was just taking up space that a better team should have had.Ã‚Â Listing himself in the category of also rans before the chase even started.Ã‚Â Kevin Harvick, who finished second to Stewart by .941 seconds found it laughable that Stewart was talking that way.
“Counting Tony Stewart out — that’s pretty funny that he counts himself out,” said Harvick, who took the Chase lead by seven points over second-place Stewart. “He’s won a ton of races to start off the Chase like they did today.
“[He has] the notes and teammates and things to lean on at Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan [Newman] and all the stuff they have to lean on, there’s no way they’re going to be totally out to lunch. So I think that’s yet to be seen. So he ran strong all day and drove from the back to the front and led the race and won the race.
“So he shouldn’t count himself out — that’s pretty funny.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr had been running just out of the top 10 all day, and after his devastating fuel strategy loss earlier in the year, he played it cool and managed to out last several of the drivers ahead of him and made the pass as they ran out of gas allowing him to move from 10th to 3rd in the final half lap of the race.Ã‚Â His third place finish was enough to move him from 10th to 5th in chase points and give himself a real shot at taking a title for the first time in his career.
“Basically, everybody ran out,” Earnhardt said. “The last lap I was counting them when I went by. I don’t know what place I was in to be honest with you, so I didn’t know where I would finish untilÃ‚Â Steve told me.”
“But I just knew we were going to get a good finish if we didn’t run out of fuel.”
“You know what, I felt like we would do well in the Chase. These are good tracks for me,” Earnhardt said. “… I felt we would rebound and kind of return to the form we started at the beginning of the year. Again, a lot of guys ran out of gas. But we did adjust and improve the car, and got faster at the end and drove by a bunch of guys that really weren’t saving. So that felt pretty good, how the car was running at the end.”
“At the end, the car was really good,” Earnhardt said. “And I think we were up in the top 10 there. So [I’m] real happy with being able to adjust the car, improve it. That’s all you can ask for as a driver, that the car gets better all day long.”
“We tried to be really smart and utilize every minute in practice, and try to really focus in practice and get everything we could out of it,” Earnhardt said. “And [we] tried to just be really smart about our adjustments and what we were trying to learn from the car throughout the weekend so we could put a good car out on the starting grid today, and I think we did a good job of that.”
So new we move on to Loudon New Hampshire for the Sylvania 300, a track where Tony Stewart finished 2nd earlier this year to his teammate Ryan Newman and where he has seen success before.Ã‚Â Can he keep up the momentum and do it again?Ã‚Â Only time, and 300 mile, will tell.