Stewart Thrilled With Run

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart finished fourth after starting 37th. (Photo: Getty Images)

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Tony Stewart couldn’t stop smiling after Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway and understandably so.

A season-best fourth-place finish erased the sting of a slow start to the season and what looked to be a poor weekend on Friday when Stewart wasn’t even among the 36 fastest qualifiers.

Those troubles went away with Stewart’s first top-five finish since last year’s Brickyard 400.

“I feel great, let’s do it again,’’ Stewart said after exiting his car. “Come to Bristol and run 500 laps here and a top five - that is just what the doctor ordered.”

It didn’t look like things would be that good on Friday with Stewart struggling. He was relegated to a 37th-starting spot in the 43-car field. Things improved throughout the weekend.

“It just kept getting better and better,’’ Stewart said of the car. “Friday was just short of a major disaster. (Saturday), the morning session was better and then Happy Hour was even better than that.’’

Each week Stewart and crew chief Chad Johnston are learning how to make the car better. Stewart is having to catch up a bit after missing the final 15 races of last season and all of preseason testing as he recovered from his broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash in August.

The injury kept him from working as closely with Johnston in the offseason, so the things they could have done then, they’re having to do now. Stewart credited Johnston for making the right calls throughout the race.

Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing, said Stewart’s finish was “a good kick in the butt. He ran all night and didn’t complain, had fun out there.’’

Zipadelli said that during the rain delay that Stewart talked about how good his car was and how much he was enjoying the race 124 laps into the event.

“It’s pretty cool,’‘ Stewart said of the racing, which featured three-wide action throughout. “When leaders caught traffic you had to make holes. We saw that (Saturday) in the Nationwide race and knew it was probably going to be the same (Sunday).  The closing rates weren’t quite as big, but if people don’t like the racing here tonight I don’t know what they want. Unless they just want a wreck fest I thought the racing was pretty good.’’

Stewart’s finish was in contrast to his teammates. Danica Patrick finished 18th despite transmission woes that caused her to lose first and second gear, causing her problems on restarts and pit stops. She hit Clint Bowyer exiting her stall after the transmission problems.

Kevin Harvick led 28 laps but then had mechanical problems that sent him into the wall, ending his race with a 39th-place finish.

Kurt Busch ran well but finished 35th after clipping Kyle Busch’s car and damaging it.

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