Tony Stewart: Fourth at Bristol is ‘just what the doctor ordered’

March 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Tony Gibson, crew chief for Danica Patrick, worked his way through a crowd of reporters and vigorously shook Tony Stewart’s hand.

“You’re back, ain’t you?” Gibson said. “You’re back.”

It wasn’t victory lane, but it seemed like the next best address to Stewart and his team Sunday night. Despite a rotten qualifying performance and a 37th-place starting spot, Stewart pushed through traffic and rain and cautions to finish fourth in the Food City 500.

Stewart weaved through traffic, 12 cautions and a confusing stretch of late-race pit strategies to wind up with a shot at an improbable victory on a physically demanding track that isn’t welcoming for drivers recovering from injury.

“It’s big,” Stewart said. “This is a physical place. We were running lap times in the mid-15s (seconds). It’s no walk in the park by any means. When the leaders caught traffic, you had to make holes. You run 15-second laps on a half-mile track and go three-wide, it’s pretty impressive.”

Stewart said he couldn’t have powered through much of the field without an excellent car and the right circumstances.

“It’s not impossible,” he said. “You just have to have things go your way. We stayed around the top 15 all day. We had a really good car. It was very balanced, very driveable. It’s big. It’s something I needed, for sure.”

After a season that began with finishes of 35th, 16th and 33rd and with Stewart still bothered by a leg broken in a sprint-car crash last August, the three-time Sprint Cup champion needed a performance that underlined his abilities — not the fact that he’s still recovering. And that’s what he got.

“It’s a step in the right direction, for sure,” Stewart said. “You get out of here with a top five, and you’ve had a good day. We were pretty strong at the end. We just couldn’t run those guys down. Carl (winner Carl Edwards) was obviously strong at the end.

“But we’ll take that. It’s just what the doctor ordered.”

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