On second thought, Stewart OK with it

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / July 18, 2011

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LOUDON, N.H. - With an opportunity to do something that his team never had accomplished, Tony Stewart kept his mind off all the exciting possibilities by doing what comes naturally. He went racing.

Even if it meant flying to Rossburg, Ohio, for a World of Outlaws race Saturday night. Even if it meant, by the time he arrived back in New Hampshire, that he’d be climbing into bed at 5 a.m., for barely three hours’ sleep.

Maybe the competitive diversion is what Stewart needs. It didn’t hurt his cause yesterday, with Stewart-Haas Racing finishing the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 exactly how it started: first and second. The fact that Stewart was second across the line at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, behind Ryan Newman, mattered not. It was a day to celebrate.

“I don’t mind running second and having him win the race vs. us winning the race. This is a much more gratifying weekend for me,’’ Stewart said. “When you’re in that situation as an organization, it can’t get any better than that. To take the front row and get first and second today, you couldn’t ask for a better weekend.’’

Stewart still doesn’t have a victory in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series this season, but now has two seconds, and moved into a tie for 10th in the points race. Seven races remain before the Chase field is finalized, and the top 10 automatically qualify. Stewart, a two-time Cup champion, last won the title in 2005.

When Newman qualified first Friday and bumped his boss to the second spot, it marked the first time since Stewart became an owner at the start of the 2009 season - a span of 91 races - that his drivers would start 1-2. That feat let Stewart and Newman know that they rolled fast cars off the truck. But taking those and surviving 301 laps around a demanding track, emerging in the same positions? Not nearly as easy.

As the last few laps wound down, with the only question whether Newman’s car was going to run out of gas, Stewart kept pushing.

“I can promise you, I didn’t leave anything out there. That was as hard as I could run until the end,’’ Stewart said. “I couldn’t get the rest of the way. That was as far and as close to Ryan as I could get.’’

Having Stewart the closest pursuer might not have eliminated the pressure Newman was feeling, but it had a calming effect.

“I’d rather have Stewart behind me than anybody else,’’ said Newman, who earned his 15th Sprint Cup victory, but first this year. “I know the way he races. If we were side by side coming to the checkered, we’d have smoke coming off the fenders, because that’s the kind of guys we are. We’re not going to crash each other . . . I know he’s going to respect me, respect our situation. It never came down to it. I’m glad that it didn’t. But he was one I didn’t mind seeing in my mirror.’’

Stewart took the lead from Newman on Lap 6, held it for 25 laps, fell back to as far as 19th, then worked his way back to the front a second time, this time for 23 laps. Newman owned the lead for the final 72 laps, with Stewart steadily inching closer: seventh, then fifth, then third, then second. That was the best he could do, which, in the end, didn’t bother him one bit.

“I think we had a strong car all day,’’ Stewart said. “Awesome job by everybody.’’

Oh, and that race in Ohio Saturday night? Stewart finished 14th. It was perhaps the only disappointing aspect of his weekend, likely forgotten by the time he and Newman arrived in Victory Lane late yesterday afternoon. With NASCAR off this week, there was a party to plan.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at