Kinder, gentler Stewart takes second place

Bob Recotta

Given Tony Stewart’s reputation, it wouldn’t be surprising if the sometimes hotheaded driver vented his disappointment over his second-place finish in Sunday’s Centurion Boats at the Glen.

After all, Stewart hasn’t taken a checkered flag all year, and Sunday’s race seemed like the perfect opportunity to break that drought. Stewart had won four of the last six previous Sprint Cup races at Watkins Glen International, including three out of four from 2004 to 2007.

But it was a kinder, gentler Stewart who joked with reporters and heaped praise upon teammate Kyle Busch for Busch’s first-place finish after Sunday’s race.

“I'm pretty happy with the run today,” Stewart said. “I know that we just were a little bit off.  But the guy that won never made a mistake and didn’t bobble. It’s hard to be disappointed with that because the good thing is that we’re back on track. You know, it’s not all just about wins. I mean, there’s a bigger prize at the end of the year than an individual race. You know, the last three weeks have been good for us, the last two weeks to finish in the top two. There’s a lot of guys that would love to have two weeks in a row where they could see they finished second. So no complaints.”

It’s not that Stewart didn’t have his chances. Starting from the ninth spot because qualifying was washed out Friday, Stewart quickly moved up three spots by the end of the first lap. By the completion of the 10th lap, Stewart had moved up to fourth, a spot he would hold for a third of the race.

With 30 laps left in the race, Stewart had climbed into second place, running only behind Busch. Busch, however, would let Stewart get no closer. Stewart said it became clear, short of a mistake a la Jeff Gordon in last year’s Watkins Glen race, the No. 20 would have to settle for second place.

“I never really got that close to passing him unfortunately,” Stewart said. “I never could get the runs in the right spots. We struggled a little bit off of (turn) five and off of (turn) seven, and those are both right hand corners, and our car was a little too free on the right handers and was really, really good on the left handers. But couldn’t really get that run that I needed to stay with him to try to make a move in a braking zone. I had great brakes all day. We were able to go deeper than he could in the corners, and there were corners we were better than him, just not in the right spot, so we never really could get close enough to really get an opportunity.”

Perhaps Stewart’s best chance to overtake Busch and log his first win of the season came after the nine-car crash on lap 83. On the restart with five laps to go, however, it soon became clear Busch had the better car and Stewart would be a bridesmaid for the second straight race.

Despite not being able to overtake Busch Sunday, Stewart’s second-place finish was good enough to allow him to move up two places to seventh in the Chase for the Championship.

When combined with his second place at Pocono Raceway last week, Stewart said he also has momentum heading into the home stretch of the schedule.

“(Sunday’s finish) doesn’t necessarily mean that next week when we get back to our normal discipline and run on ovals that it’s going to be on track and where we want it to be, but there’s good momentum and especially with all the changes this year and everybody thinking how disruptive it’s been to our program,” Stewart said. “I think the last two weeks have shown how focused our team is on the job at hand, so it makes me proud of our guys and proud of our whole organization.”

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