Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stewart-Haas Recap: Disappointment at Daytona

Tony Stewart gets caught in this late race wreck on Lap 189.
Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
After the most bizarre Daytona 500 in history, Stewart-Haas Racing left Daytona International Speedway disappointed. Despite having strong cars, Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick, making her series debut, were all involved in wrecks, derailing their hopes for solid finishes in NASCAR's biggest race. Stewart finished 16th, Newman 21st and Patrick 38th after a wild night of racing.

Once again, a Daytona 500 victory evaded Stewart.

Making his 14th Daytona 500 start in the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, Stewart brought momentum to the Great American Race following his remarkable championship drive at the end of last season. The three-time Sprint Cup champion, paired with new crew chief Steve Addington, shined during Speedweeks, finishing second in the Budweiser Shootout and winning the first Gatorade Duel qualifying race, which secured him the third starting spot in the Daytona 500.

After the green flag dropped for the rain-delayed event Monday night, Stewart stayed in the lead pack. He hovered just outside the top 10 for the majority of the race and led for two laps.

Things got hairy for Stewart in the final stretch. On Lap 187, Stewart was in the middle of a seven-car wreck involving Jamie McMurray, but escaped without serious damage. He was moving up in the race’s last laps when with four to go Ricky Stenhouse Jr. clipped Stewart, triggering an eight-car wreck.

With his Daytona 500 dreams out of reach, Stewart salvaged a 16th-place finish.

“I can win the short races, but I can’t seem to figure this one out,” Stewart said.

“The guys did a really good job of getting the car fixed back up quickly to where we could go out and get a decent finish, but it’s still not what we really wanted.”

Newman also had his hands full, but his struggles started early. On Lap 14, the No. 39 U.S. Army/Quicken Loans Chevrolet had a left-rear tire go down, causing Newman to spin off track in Turn 2. Newman came in to pit, but the lug nuts weren’t tight enough and the wheel fell off. Adding insult to injury, Newman backed up his car on pit road and made contact with AJ Allmendinger. As a result, the No. 39 sustained damage to the rear bumper and right-rear quarter panel.

Newman’s pit road issues weren’t over. Crew chief Tony Gibson asked Newman to pit again because the leftover tire carcass from his spin had wrapped around the right-side wheel. After his repeated trips to pit road, Newman fell two laps down by Lap 25.

Despite the obstacles, Newman didn’t give up. By Lap 128 the 2008 Daytona 500 winner was back on the lead lap. After a 2-hour, 5-minute red flag for a freak jet-dryer crash, Newman raced his way into the top 10.

With four laps to go, he was running ninth before becoming a victim of the same crash that ensnared team owner Stewart. After pitting for front-end damage, Newman brought the No. 39 across the finish line in 21st in a hard-fought finish.

“This was not the night we had hoped for,” Newman said. “I thought we had a shot at the end, but we were once again caught up in something not of our making. Typical wrong-place, wrong-time deal that we’ve had time and time again at Daytona.

“It’s really disappointing because we had fought back, gotten back on the lead lap and put ourselves in position to win, which is what we needed to do, then we got caught up in a wreck just a few laps from the end,” Newman said.

Danica Patrick made her highly anticipated Sprint Cup debut in the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in a collaborative effort between Stewart-Haas Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. After a violent wreck in her Duel qualifying race, Patrick was credited with the 29th starting spot, but had to drop back to the rear of the field for the Daytona 500.
A Lap 2 wreck ruined Danica Patrick's night at a big debut but she did return to
the track -62 laps down to finish the race. Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR

Patrick’s chances at a solid finish ended before they could begin – she was caught up in a six-car wreck on Lap 2 when Elliott Sadler got into back of Jimmie Johnson. Patrick tried to avoid the wreck but made contact with David Ragan, and both spun into Johnson.

The No. 10 was in the garage for more than an hour undergoing extensive repairs. On Lap 65, Patrick returned to the track 62 laps down. At this point, Patrick’s only goal was to log laps.

The 38th-place finish marked a disappointing end to a topsy-turvy weekend for Patrick. The former IndyCar driver won the pole for Saturday’s Nationwide race, but was involved in three wrecks during Speedweeks, none of which were her own making.

As a rookie in the Daytona 500 and Sprint Cup Series, Patrick tried to make the most of the seat time she did have as she learns her way around NASCAR's top series.

“Any lap that I turn is progression, that’s for sure,” Patrick said. “That’s why I was so proud of everyone working so hard. They were working hard to get me back on the track. Was there much to gain as far as position? No. What there was to gain was for me to get the experience of running out there.”

Patrick’s next Sprint Cup race in the No. 10 Chevrolet will be May 12 at Darlington.

With the weirdest Daytona 500 ever in the books, Stewart-Haas Racing moves onto Phoenix International Raceway. The newly repaved 1-mile track with variable banking will be more indicative of the season at hand.

Newman, who won the spring race in 2010 at Phoenix, is already looking forward to it.

“We’ll soldier on and head to Phoenix, which has been a really good track for us,” Newman said.

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