Monday, August 29, 2011

Stewart-Haas Review — Newman steady as Stewart struggles

Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Imates
With two races to go before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase field is set, Ryan Newman remains seventh in the standings after finishing eighth in Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Newman has a 77-point lead over Brad Keselowski, who occupies the 11th spot.

Newman, who started the race from the pole position, has been the steady driver from the Stewart-Haas Racing team this year. It was Newman’s 12th top-10 finish in 20 career starts at Bristol and his 12th top-10 result of 2011. Newman could clinch a Chase berth Sept. 4 at AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The combination of a decent car, the great starting spot, and smart pit calls helped Newman’s effort. He led the first four laps on the .533-mile oval and remained in the top-15 throughout the race. On lap 415 of the 500-lap race, Newman was running 14th when the caution flew.  Crew chief Tony Gibson called for only two tires and the call let the No. 39 team restart in the third spot.

“It was a good points day for us, looking at the big picture,” Newman said. “It is going to take a better performance than that in those last 10 races to be a champion, but I feel like we have something to work with, for sure.”

Newman’s SHR teammate Tony Stewart’s fate seemed to be decided when he was slow in practice and slower in qualifying, putting the No. 14 near the back of the field when he qualified 42nd in the 43-car field.

Stewart spent much of the week answering questions about new SHR driver Danica Patrick and perhaps the distraction took a toll on both the driver and the team. Stewart quickly found himself down a lap at Bristol and never got in the position to gain his lap back. He fell further behind before the evening mercifully ended for the driver.

Stewart is 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points but Brad Keselowski, Saturday’s winner and a driver who is on a hot streak, is right behind him. Without a win to his credit, Stewart must make sure that Keselowski does not erase his 21-point advantage in the next two weeks.

With both teams working out of the same garage and with the same equipment, it is difficult to understand the reason Stewart has struggled the last few weeks while Newman has remained steady. Stewart, who typically runs well in hot weather, must have two good races in a row to contend for another championship.

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