Having missed the first eight races of 2016 after an offseason back injury, the three-time Sprint Cup champion has started to look a lot like the “Smoke” of old.
Even though it was shortened by fog and eventually rain, Monday’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway was Stewart’s second consecutive fifth-place finish (following up on last week at Indianapolis).
Going back to his win at Sonoma in late June, Stewart has four top-five finishes in his last six starts. He also is up to 27th in the Sprint Cup point standings.
Not bad for a guy who’s retiring at season’s end.
During Monday’s one-hour, 16-minute red flag before the victory was awarded to Chris Buescher, Stewart discussed his race up to that point.
And he even proved clairvoyant about what would be his eventual finish.
“Well, I’m pretty happy with it,” Stewart said. “(If racing resumes) I think we can gain a couple of spots, but I’m not sure that we might not go back a couple spots. We might average out at the end.
“If we end up fifth I’m pretty happy with this today.”
So, all’s well that ended well for Stewart — kinda.
“We were kind of a like a yo-yo today,” Stewart said. “I was pretty happy to see the race end. I hate it for the fans who came back to see us race on Monday, but for just us, we’ll take a fifth-place finish and be happy with it.”
Sunday’s main event of the weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup race, will have a definite Chip Ganassi Racing flavor when the green flag drops.
Pole sitter Kyle Larson will lead the 38-car field to the starting line, while CGR teammate Jamie McMurray will be his wing man, alongside on the front row.
Larson is hoping to do the same thing Sunday that he did last Sunday at Michigan: he started from the pole and finished with the win. He and McMurray are in Chevrolets, while Toyotas make up Row 2 with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Row 3 has the Chevrolet of A.J. Allmendinger and the Ford of Danica Patrick, who will be the highest-starting driver for both Ford and Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s Patrick’s third-best career start in a Cup race, and her highest start since Charlotte in May 2014.
The defending race winner, Tony Stewart, retired at the end of last season from NASCAR Cup competition.
Elliott Sadler remains atop the Xfinity Series point standings following Saturday night’s American Ethanol e15 250 at Iowa Speedway.
Sadler finished eighth in what was his 800th career NASCAR start across all three major series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.
JR Motorsports drivers own the top three spots in the standings: Sadler holds a 25-point lead over teammate Justin Allgaier and a 57-point edge on another teammate and Saturday’s race winner, William Byron, who is third in the Xfinity standings.
William Byron bounced back from last weekend’s razor-thin loss at the finish line to Denny Hamlin at Michigan to earn his first career Xfinity Series victory Saturday night under the lights at Iowa Speedway.
Byron, who won seven Truck races last season, roared to the front late in the race after a final restart and held on to become the youngest race winner (19 years old) at the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa.
One week after missing out on a win by .012 of a second, William Byron broke through for his first career Xfinity victory, capturing Saturday night’s American Ethanol e15 250 at Iowa Speedway.
The 19-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina native’s previous best Xfinity finish was second, when he lost out to Denny Hamlin at the start-finish line in last weekend’s race at Michigan, but Byron would not be denied Saturday night under the lights, becoming the youngest Xfinity winner on the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa.
In earning his first win in his 14th career Xfinity start, Byron took the lead late in the race and kept a number of drivers at bay in the closing laps. He also qualified for the Xfinity Series playoffs. He also became the first first-time winner in the Xfinity Series this season.
“It feels awesome,” Byron told Fox Sports 1. “I think we had a first- or second-place car, got a little bit loose on one run and then we got back on cycle there at the end and were able to take off. It’s really cool.”
HOW BYRON WON: In much the same way he won several of his seven Truck Series races last season, Byron quietly stalked the leaders through much of the race. Then, following a wreck that involved Christopher Bell, Ryan Reed and Brennan Poole with 32 laps to go, Byron worked his way to the front as the final laps ticked off and won.
WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Interestingly, all of the top-four finishers earned their career-best Xfinity showings: Byron (1st), Sieg (2nd), Reddick (3rd) and Chastain (4th), while Armstrong tied his career-best finish (5th).
WHO HAD A BAD RACE:Sam Hornish Jr. came in as the defending winner and kicked off a multi-race deal with Team Penske with this race. He was running in the top-5 when Christopher Bell got into Hornish on Lap 80, sending him into the wall and ending his night. … Seymour, Wisconsin’s Ty Majeski had a good night going in his Xfinity Series debut until he was involved in a solo wreck on Lap 145 that also ended his night.
NOTABLE: Polesitter Christopher Bell won Stage 1, while Brendan Gaughan won Stage 2, his first stage win of the season. … Elliott Sadler made his 800th career NASCAR start across all three major series (Cup, Xfinity and Trucks).
QUOTE OF THE RACE: “We had four fresh tires and I just feel like we should have had a victory. I thought the odds were in our favor. … I feel like we gave one away here. It’s going to be a tough one to swallow.” – Third-place finisher Tyler Reddick.
WHAT’S NEXT: Firecracker 250, June 30, 7:30 p.m. ET, Daytona International Speedway.