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INDIANAPOLIS — Sometimes, even a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion needs to lower his expectations.
After qualifying 28th on Saturday for the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart expected a long, hard race Sunday.
When it was over, though, the Columbus native had climbed all the way to 10th.
Even though he couldn’t threaten race winner Jimmie Johnson, Stewart was in a much better mood on Sunday than a day earlier.
“(On Saturday), we would have been lucky to get in the top 20, let alone top 10, so we’re pretty happy with the result today considering where we were,” said Stewart, who has won the Brickyard 400 twice. “But it’s definitely not the caliber of what I think this team is capable of.”
The top-10 finish was Stewart’s ninth in 14 Brickyard 400 starts and his 10th of the season. He dropped one place to eighth in the points standings, one point behind Martin Truex Jr.
“I don’t know what it was (Saturday),” Stewart said. “I was pretty happy today. It at least was somewhat consistent. (Saturday), there was no consistency to the car lap to lap.
“We were just a little bit tight in the center of the corner, and that’s kind of what we fought all day. But (Saturday), we had problems with security in the right rear getting into the corner and being really loose off of it. We got that fixed. I was proud of the gains we made.”
Stewart moved up to 21st place after 10 laps and crept his way forward to 16th after 50 laps. He fell back to 31st after a pair of restarts at the race’s midway point, but got back to 15th with 50 laps to go. He took advantage of a pair of restarts late in the race to climb as high as ninth.
“The first two (restarts), I think we got stuck on the outside and lost 10 or 12 spots,” Stewart said. “We got on the bottom for the last two, and it actually paid off. We got two or three cars each restart. That’s definitely what got us through.”
While Stewart was pleased with the way things went for the No. 14 car, he wasn’t happy with some tactics used by other drivers Sunday.
“I watched Marcos Ambrose drive Jamie McMurray clean off the racetrack on the backstretch,” Stewart said. “There’s nothing about that that’s racing. He should be happy that Jamie didn’t dump him.
“There are guys who just forget about what we are supposed to be doing here. They are more worried about blocking the guys behind them than trying to pass the guys in front of them. You just race them how they race. We’ll just keep adapting to how they want to race.”
While Stewart’s crew was working on his car following Saturday’s qualifying session, Stewart flew about 100 miles to race at the track he owns in Eldora, Ohio. He won the NRA Sprint Invader finale.
“It was fun,” Stewart said. “The big show was the 50th anniversary of USAC being at Eldora Speedway, and they had a 50-lap feature for the non-winged sprint cars. I made up my mind I was going to watch anyway, so it’s like ‘If I’m going to go, I’m going to take my car and race, too.’ I’ve got the best of both worlds.”
Stewart and crew chief Steve Addington were happy with the way the crew made the car ready for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.
“Everybody on this Mobil 1/ Office Depot Chevrolet has really dug in and worked hard all weekend,” Addington said.
“We shouldn’t have been in the hole that we were in to start with, so we obviously need to do a better job of starting the weekend off better,” Stewart said. “But I’m proud of the effort that we put forth to get us here. Those guys worked hard to take a car that was very inconsistent and made it something that was good enough to get in the top 10 today.”
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