The crowd roared when Indiana native Tony Stewart posted the fastest lap in the first round of qualifying Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Anticipation grew when he was the last driver to go in the final round, but he couldn’t muster a fast enough speed to take the pole for Sunday’s Brickyard 400.
Still, Stewart will start fourth – his best starting spot this season. Carl Edwards won the pole with a lap of 183.464 mph. Stewart qualified at 182.823 mph.
“It’s a moral victory if nothing else, for us and the team,” said Stewart, whose best starting spot this season had been sixth at Talladega and Martinsville. “It’s been a rough season so far, so this is a great way to come to your home track.”
Stewart enters Sunday’s race 26th in the points standings. His only chance of making the Chase is to win one of the remaining seven races before the Chase field is set after the Richmond race in September. Stewart, a two-time Brickyard 400 winner, has placed in the top 10 in five of his last six Indy starts.
Stewart paced Stewart-Haas Racing on Saturday. Stewart-Haas Racing placed all four of its drivers in the top 15 with Kevin Harvick sixth, Kurt Busch 14th and Danica Patrick 15th.
Asked what kind of a confidence boost the qualifying performance was for he and his team, Stewart said: “I mean it could go and be a natural disaster (Sunday). It could all be for nothing. It’s the way you want to start the weekend for sure is to have two good runs in qualifying and have a decent starting spot.”