Tony Stewart saw a potential top-10 result disappear when a freak mid-race engine issue caused him to lose two laps and finish a disappointing 22nd in the Subway Fresh Fit 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
The trouble began for Stewart on lap 248 when a caution period started. Crew chief Steve Addington told Stewart to conserve fuel in his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) to hopefully complete the 312-lap distance without another pit stop.
Stewart, who has been a master at fuel-saving strategy under cautions throughout his career, shut off his engine as he has done many times in the past. By shutting off the engine, drivers can coast around the track without using fuel and then fire up the engine when it is required to get moving under power again.
Unfortunately for Stewart, after he shut the engine off on lap 249, it wouldn’t fire up again when he flipped the switch inside his Office Depot/Mobil 1 machine. Anything he attempted failed to power the engine. The car stopped on the racetrack, and a tow truck had to push him back to pit lane so Addington and the rest of the SHR team could diagnose the problem.
After several seconds in the pits, the engine finally roared to life. Stewart rejoined the field before the race went back to green, but he was two laps down and out of contention for a good finish. It was a tough blow for the No. 14 team, which was in the top-10 for much of the race up to that point.
“I just shut the car off like we did at Daytona and turned it back on, and it never re-fired,” said Stewart, who won at Phoenix in November 1999. “That’s all I can tell you. I don’t know why it didn’t re-fire. I honestly don’t know. It’s not really my department. I just turned the switch back on, and it never re-fired. I don’t know why that was, but it definitely cost us a good day.”
Following the race, Stewart, Addington and other crew members huddled with members of the Hendrick Motorsports engine department, which provides engines to SHR.
“We talked with the Hendrick guys. We’ll keep working with them to try to figure out what happened,” Addington said. “We’ve got to dig into it and find out what happened, when it happened and what caused it. We’re all learning through this, and we’ve just got to look into it and make sure it doesn’t happen again. The guys from Hendrick give us great engines and support, and I know we’ll work with them and figure it out. It’s a shame it happened to us today, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet Impala for SHR, finished 21st after he was involved in an accident with Carl Edwards on lap 257 and made contact with the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall in turn four. He was able to finish the race, but finished two laps behind the leaders.
Denny Hamlin won the Subway Fresh Fit 500k to score his 18th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Phoenix.
Kevin Harvick finished 7.315 seconds behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Joey Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were seven caution periods for 37 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 312-lap race around the 1-mile oval.
With round two of 36 complete, Stewart leads the SHR duo in the championship point standings. He is 15th with 52 points, 37 markers behind series leader Hamlin. Newman stands 18th with 46 points, 43 markers out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Kobalt Tools 400 on Sunday, March 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EST, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.Follow paulmbanks