Stewart Avoids Diaster at Auto Club:Championship Hopes Still Alive

Misan AkuyaCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2009

FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet, walks to his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway on October 9, 2009 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Tony Stewart started 20th on Sunday in the Pepsi 500 at Auto Club speedway.  To say he had an up and down day is an understatement.

Stewart from the drop of the green flag went from 20th to 13th and then dropped to 18th.  But he slowly drove his way back into the top 15 before the first caution came out.

Then Stewart worked his way into the top ten and for a good portion of the race was 10th to 14th on the track.

During a green flag pitstop coming in as the leader, Smoke was caught for speeding on pit road a costly mistake that put him at 1 point 30th 1 lap down and nearly 200 points from the points lead.

But a caution came out which allowed Stewart to get the wave around.  Then instantly the green flag was thrown again another caution came out, Denny Hamlin spins. 

Stewart then pits for fuel and 4 fresh tires which allows him during the last run of the day to stay out and lead more laps. 

But the issue was the leaders were catching him by a second so he make his final pitstop with roughly 17 to go then as he is exiting his pit a derby caution comes out.

Stewart stays out and is 11th.  He would win up finishing 5th scoring his 15th top five of the season and his 21st top ten, all series leading stats.

One might say that this proved the team is championship caliber more so than the win at Kansas.

“I’m really proud of Darian Grubb (crew chief) and all the guys on this Office Depot/Old Spice team,” said Stewart after scoring his series-leading 15th top-five finish of the season. “We weren’t quite as good as we wanted to be today. It shows there is no quit in this team at all. We just keep digging. We got our car good at the end of the day.”

With 6 races to go instead of being nearly 200 points behind Jimmie Johnson, Stewart instead is only 84 points behind Johnson.  Being the only driver to have scored wins at all the 6 remaining tracks Tony Stewart should be liking his chance of trying to dethrone a dominant Jimmie Johnson.

“This team never quits and never will,” Stewart said. “That’s the attitude at Office Depot and Old Spice and everybody at U.S. Army, Coke, Chevrolet and Stewart-Haas Racing. It was a long day, for sure. We never got to the top-five there until the end. I’m really proud of our guys. Our car got better and better. In the run that we had the speeding penalty and had to come in and got a lap down, we were running lap times the same as the leader. We got the car better at the end, we just never got a chance to do anything until there in the end.

“I don’t care what it takes. I don’t care if we have to go 12 laps down and have the right side knocked off of it, if it gets us a top-five at the end of the day, that is what we have to do the rest of the season.”