INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon owned the media spotlight leading into Sunday’s Brickyard 400 — and the two took an encore lap together after the race that Stewart called one of the three best moments of his 18-year NASCAR Sprint Cup career.
The race itself, though, belonged to Kyle Busch.
Busch, who also won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race and opened Sunday afternoon on the Brickyard pole, was the class of the field at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning this race for the second year in a row and spoiling Stewart’s bid for a third win on his home track in what was likely his final Sprint Cup race here.
The Columbus native finished the race in 11th place — a disappointment given how he ran for most of the day, but a pleasant surprise considering a penalty for speeding on pit road with 33 laps remaining dropped him all the way back to 30th.
“We pitted under green and then the caution came out, and we got caught a lap down with it,” Stewart said. “So it was kind of double jeopardy there. If I didn’t make the mistake and mess up, then I wouldn’t have put us in that spot, but I’m proud of our guys.”
Stewart continued to battle after the penalty, and some fortunate breaks helped him climb his way back up through the field.
Another caution with nine laps remaining enabled Stewart to get back on the lead lap, and a sizable wreck on the restart that took several cars out of contention helped the No. 14 car make up a great deal of ground down the stretch.
Several subsequent crashes pushed the race into overtime, enabling Stewart to salvage a respectable finish.
“We didn’t leave anything on the table,” he said of the strong finish. “We fought for everything all day, and got everything we could get out of it.”
Stewart seemed confident in his ride after qualifying third on Saturday — not entirely surprising considering the No. 14 car had finished in the top seven four times in the previous five races. The driver has been quick to credit first-year crew chief Mike Bugarewicz and the rest of his crew for the recent run of success, a run Stewart hopes can continue through the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“Mike and those guys, they keep showing that we’re going to be a threat in this thing by the end of it,” he said.
Despite not finishing where he might have liked, Stewart came away from his final ride at the Speedway smiling — and the emotions he tried to mask throughout the weekend were evident after he and Gordon shared one last lap.
“That’s probably our last lap around here in a professional race,” Stewart said, “and to be able to share that moment together, that was something I’ll cherish.”
Number of times Tony Stewart has win the Brickyard 400 (2005, 2007)
Stewart’s finishing place in this year’s Brickyard 400
Number of times Stewart has competed in the Brickyard 400
Laps Stewart completed in Sunday’s race