By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Tony Stewart’s weekend at Michigan International Speedway did not start fast as he was 20th after the first practice. However, Stewart qualified third for the FireKeepers Casino 400. Stewart was also outside the top 15 in both of Saturday’s practice sessions.
When the race started, Stewart stayed in the top five for the first 40 laps. Stewart had some close calls as both he and those around him fought hard to control their loose racecars with the new rules package, which took away more downforce from the racecars.
Other than during green flag pit stops, Stewart never fell out of the top five until lap 140. Stewart fell back to 11th during a round of pit stops under caution. Stewart slowly began to climb his way back up, although he was slowed by cautions several times. Stewart restarted in the sixth position with fewer than 10 laps to go. Stewart slid back, behind Carl Edwards, and finished in seventh.
This is Stewart’s second top 10 finish since returning from a back injury that sidelined him until Richmond. Stewart’s other top 10 this season came at Talladega, where he handed driving duties for his No. 14 Chevrolet SS to Ty Dillon mid-race. Since Stewart started the race that day, he was credited with the top 10 finish.
Stewart, who hasn’t had much to celebrate over the last few years, was ecstatic after 400-miles of racing in Michigan.
“Not only today, but just the whole weekend. I am tickled to death with these guys. That is the kind of weekend I’ve been looking for all year out of this group,” Stewart said. “Today is proof that we can do it. I would rather have this than win a race and run 15th, 20th the next week. From start to finish all weekend it’s been solid and that is what we are looking for right now. I’m tickled to death.”
Stewart also gave a rave review of the new aerodynamic package that NASCAR used this weekend for the first time.
“I love it. I absolutely love it. The package is good. The aero package is starting to catch up now. The whole equation to this to make it all where everybody wants it to be are tires and aero,” Stewart explained. “Up to this point Goodyear has been way ahead of NASCAR. NASCAR is finally catching up. So, now we are getting the split between the two groups closed up. The good thing is Goodyear is primed and ready to do all the stuff they need to do. They have been waiting on NASCAR. It’s coming around. Today we got to drive the cars. We got to make a difference in the car and manipulate things. That is what we have all been wanting. We are not running Mach 12 around here in the middle of the corner. I don’t know what everybody else is going to say, but I thought it was pretty good. It may not be perfect yet, but it is more than definitely going in the right direction for sure.”
The next time this aero package is slated to be run is at Kentucky, one month from now. Meanwhile, Stewart looks to ride this momentum past the off weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next weekend and into Sonoma Raceway two weeks from now.