Posted: 6:58 p.m. Sunday, June 9, 2013
By Jordan Bianchi
Three weeks ago Tony Stewart was in a tailspin as he was fully immersed in the worst start to a season in his NASCAR career.
But three consecutive top 10s later highlighted by a win last weekend at Dover and a fourth-place finish Sunday at Pocono International Raceway has jumped Stewart eight spots in the standings.
The dramatic change in fortunes left Stewart quite pleased following the Party in the Poconos 400.
"Really happy with it," Stewart said. "We got kind of pinched down there in the tunnel; or not pinched down - we were the one doing the pinching, and got hit in the left rear there and moved up the track, and fell back to 12th and fought back to fourth there with all those restarts there, so pretty happy with that."
The reversal in performance isn't just limited to Stewart but also to the team he co-owns, Stewart-Haas Racing.
On Sunday, Ryan Newman led 19 laps and used pit strategy to secure a fifth-place result. And just for the third time all season, Danica Patrick finished a Sprint Cup race on the lead lap -- albeit in 29th.
"Definitely progress for sure," Stewart said. "It's one thing if one car runs good, but to have two or all three of us running good shows that we are gaining momentum. It's not just one team, the whole organization is gaining momentum. Really proud of our group at SHR."
Stewart's optimism is more than just the recent uptick his team is experiencing. It is also due to the close technical alliance SHR has with Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies his team with cars and engines.
Using the same equipment as Stewart, Jimmie Johnson led 128 of 160 laps en route to his third win of the year, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran up front all afternoon and finished third. All told, four Hendrick-powered cars finished in the top five.
It's no wonder Stewart feels genuinely excited about the direction things are headed.
"The Hendrick engines today were awesome," he said. "There's no doubt of having four of the top-five cars with Hendrick horsepower shows the strength there. Just happy and proud of that effort too."