Allstate 400 at Brickyard game story by Jane Miller
In the two years since Tony Stewart won his first race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he has learned a lot of things.
Patience, certainly. How to control his temper — well, he’s still working on that.
But perhaps the biggest thing he has learned is how to relax and enjoy good things when they come his way.
That’s why he’ll savor the second Allstate 400 at the Brickyard he won Sunday as much or more than his first.
“Everybody knew how much (winning the first one) was like taking a weight off us,” said Stewart, who led 65 of the 160 laps Sunday. “It was like, ‘whew.’ Today, we’re just happy now.”
With the pressure off, Stewart said all he had to do in Sunday’s 14th running of the Brickyard was race the strong car his team had prepared for him. He pulled away from a fading Kevin Harvick, whom he passed for the final time on lap 151, and even was able to take a few sips from his water bottle as the laps wound down.
“It was like a life-or-death situation for me two years ago,” said Stewart, who joined Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett as multiple winners of this race, “but this was just — I can’t say it was a normal week because it wasn’t. It’s never a normal race (at Indianapolis). It was easier to put into perspective, calm down, do what I needed to do, race the race vs. saying my whole life depends on these next 15 laps like it was two years ago.”
Though Stewart had an air of calm and confidence most of the weekend, and felt even better when the day dawned hot and sunny, the victory was anything but assured when Harvick passed him on a restart on lap 141.
“I got really tight on the restarts for some unknown reason,” Stewart said. “I was confident that we could get back to him and I thought in my mind, I mean, I really believed we could get by him because we’d done it the run before.”
Harvick didn’t make it easy.
“Kevin got really smart and changed how he was driving Turn 2 and I got to where I wasn’t getting as big a run as I was before,” Stewart said.
As Stewart finally attempted to make the pass, the two cars touched.
“We got underneath him,” Stewart said. “I just squeezed him a little bit, not on purpose, but I got too close to him I guess.”
The contact damaged Harvick’s fender and he faded to seventh.
“It was good racing until I got the left front fender caved in,” Harvick said. “He didn’t give us quite enough room.”
Said Stewart: “Whoever got through Turn 3 was probably going to win the race at the point.”
And that was Stewart, who nevertheless said he wouldn’t have intentionally crashed his good friend, even to win at the track he holds most dear.
“As much as you probably won’t believe this, it wouldn’t have meant anything if I would have crashed him to win the race,” said Stewart. “He wouldn’t do that to me. ... It’s not the right way. If I would have done it the wrong way, it would have ruined winning it.”
Stewart avoided crashing, but plenty of his fellow competitors did not. The race didn’t even get to the first competition caution, scheduled for lap 15 and necessary to check for tire wear on a racetrack with very little rubber buildup, before Jeff Green’s right rear tire blew.
There were nine cautions for 43 laps, six of them in the first 62 laps. Most of the accidents were multi-car pileups.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was responsible for a late caution when his car suffered engine failure while running fifth on lap 137. He finished 34th.
“I guess the motor broke but you’ll have bad luck every once in a while,” he said.
Juan Pablo Montoya, running his first race on the oval since winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, finished second and ran with the leaders all day. Four-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon was third.
“I was happy to get third,” Gordon said. “Tony was the guy to beat. I mean, I don’t think anybody had anything for him.”
Stewart is on a hot streak, having won two races in a row for the seventh time in his career. He won his first race this season two weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway.
“I think we felt so good after Chicago, breaking the ice for the year … knowing it seems like this time of year, once we get that first win, they come right after each other,” he said. “That made the weekend off more fun. It gave us confidence coming in. You come to what to me is my biggest race of the year, the moon and stars aligned, I guess.”
Jane Miller can be reached at 686-3207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.