Tony Stewart started 2nd on Sunday's Sylvaina 300 at New Hampshire. He led the first lap and and led a combined 52 laps. Never dropping lower than 6th until he had to make an extra long pitstop repairing a loose axle cover dropping him to 25th. He made up ground to finish a devastating 14th. Stewart is now 6th in points 74 points out of the lead to Mark Martin. Only 9 points behind 5th place Kurt Busch, only 19 points behind 4th place Juan Pablo Montoya, and only 39 points behind Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson who are tied for 2nd.
Stewart was very unhappy as he left the track. Talking to 0 media, taking no cold beverages after the race and simply telling his assistants "lets go." And he has the right to be upset. As Stewart was poised for perhaps a win or a top 5 run at the very least and has now lost points.
"When we get to the end," Stewart-Haas competition director Bobby Hutchens said, "we may look back and think that that was the moment that may have made the difference. Is it a bad day? Yeah, but it's not a total loss."
A 14th place isn't what the 14 team was looking for , but to think of what would have happened if the axle had came out, that they could have gone to garage and finish anywhere from 32nd to 37th and be 100s of points out of the lead. A 14th place finish is amazing damage control.
"Oh yeah, we made a really good recovery," Hutchens said. "Darian and [car chief] Jeff Meendering and the guys got the car fixed and got back out without losing a lap and we salvaged a top-15 finish out of it."
"We came back and didn't go any laps down or anything like that, fixed the problem on pit road and came back halfway through the field, at least," Grubb said. "It's about all we can take out of here. We didn't hurt ourselves too bad in points, but it still hurts.
"We're a new organization. We're going to have to fix all those problems and keep getting stronger. I haven't seen [Stewart] yet. I'm sure he's upset, just as much as I am. He should be. We let him down. We have to assemble that car to the utmost of our abilities and we missed it."
Stewart fans , supporters, and many people that picked him to win it all shouldn't be discouraged. In 2005 Stewart's 2nd championship season he came out of Dover dropping from 1st to 5th in points ( exactly the same amount of spots he dropped after Loudon) and was 23 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Like this year, Stewart was the leader before the chase.
Another reason not to get discouraged would be that in 2006 Jimmie Johnson was 8th in points 139 points behind Kevin Harvick after race 1 at New Hampshire after crashing and finishing 39th. Instead of gaining Johnson went on to lose points and be as far back as 156 points out of the lead. But thanks to a 2nd, 1st,2nd,and a 2nd , after Texas Johnson was in the lead and won his first of 3 championships.
So Stewart coming back to win it wouldn't be anything new to him and probably wouldn't be the biggest comeback in the chase unless he keeps slipping.
Perhaps the best reason not to be discouraged however is that he is fast. Tony Stewart led 52 laps Sunday and was at the worst a solid top 5 car. Right now the only team up to his level of speed and dominance is Mark Martin. With Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson a half a step back. If things like a loose axle cover (which never happens) don't happen again or any wrecks or badluck, watch out for the 14 team. Don't forget Stewart drives best with a fire and after a pretty calm season he has that fire now.
The 14 team is strong and will be contenders at every race track we go to. Don't be surprised to see them roll into Dover , dominate, and win the race sunday. This team is on a mission to achieve the ultimate "I told ya so" to all it's naysayers and detractors. The best way to do that is to win the championship. And I fully expect them to do just that.