INDIANAPOLIS — Hoping to make a statement in his final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series attempt at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, three-time champion and two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart ultimately said he “had fun” despite his day unraveling in the final laps.
Stewart started third and ran in the top 10 for the entirety of the first half of the race, but was bitten by a speeding penalty in the second half of the 160-lap event and ultimately picked up some damage in a multi-car accident with seven laps to go that saw him end up with an 11th-place finish.
“This has been the most relaxing Brickyard (weekend) I’ve ever had, and this was probably the most fun I’ve had at a Brickyard too,” Stewart said after climbing from his No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet.
“I mean, it was nice to win those two races, but it was stressful to do it, and for some reason this weekend … Drew Brown, Eddie Jarvis and everybody just made my schedule as open as they could to let me enjoy it, and we did. We had a lot of fun this weekend, from start to finish.”
“Having fun (in this final season) is a heck of a lot better than being frustrated all the time. There’s so many cool people that we care about in this series … other team owners, crew chiefs, drivers … we’re just having fun with it. That’s what we said at the start of the year we wanted to do, was have fun and win a race. We’ve done that, and I don’t think we’re quite done yet, so we’ll just keep having fun and going for it.”
The day was made special from the first moments — as Stewart was given the privilege of pacing the field prior to the green flag — and from there, Indiana’s favorite son put on a show from the start of the race.
He fell back to fourth in the opening corner but used the draft down the backstretch to surge past both outside polesitter Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin to move into the runner-up spot by the time the first lap was over.
A quick caution and restart saw Stewart remain in second, but the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet would begin to fade just before lap 20, when he fell back to sixth and faded to 10 seconds behind race leader Kyle Busch.
A tight condition that Stewart described as “plowing” dropped him as far back as ninth before his first pit stop on lap 27, and by the time the first round of pit stops were finally completed on lap 42 by Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Stewart had settled into the ninth position.
Giving up one additional spot to Austin Dillon on lap 50, Stewart would be afforded a break with a caution three laps later — allowing him to come to pit road for additional service from crew chief Mike Bugarewicz on lap 56.
The changes would light another restart candle on the No. 14, as Stewart went four-wide down the backstretch on the lap 59 restart to move from 11th to sixth as he surged back into contention. Though he would give back three positions to the Toyota contingent, Stewart still found himself ninth at the halfway mark of the 400-mile event.
Holding that position for the duration of the run, the second half of the event would be calmer for Stewart as he looked to maintain and advance.
However, a caution with 40 laps to go would lead to a speeding penalty for ‘Smoke’, pinning him a lap down and forcing him to restart at the tail of the field — leaving him hoping to rebound in the final quarter of the race.