Tony Stewart Explains How Fontana Practice Time Crunch Affected Teams

Friday's Sprint Cup Series practice in Fontana was supposed to be the typical 90-minute session teams usually get before taking their qualifying laps for Sunday's race.

But because of weather, the session was reduced to 45 minutes – and about five or 10 of those minutes were lost to cleaning up debris from Kyle Busch's wreck into the infield grass.

So teams had less than half the normal preparation time for qualifying, which is scheduled to take place at 5:10 p.m. local time (8:10 p.m. Eastern time) this evening.

What did teams do in terms of strategy to prepare, given the very short practice window? Let's look at the example of how Tony Stewart's No. 14 team handled the situation.

In an ordinary pre-qualifying practice, Stewart said he likes to spend the first 45-to-60 minutes on race trim (the setup the team will use during the actual race). If Stewart feels satisfied with how the car feels after the first hour of practice, he'll switch over to qualifying trim and make one or two mock qualifying runs.

The delayed practice at Fontana caused Stewart's team to scramble, though. He missed the first few minutes of practice because his team had initially started in race trim; they had to spend time switching over to qualifying setup before he could hit the track.

Most teams were in the same boat in terms of only practicing for the qualifying session and not the race. Crew chief Darian Grubb told Stewart that he saw only one car making more than one lap at a time.

The practice session was tricky for Stewart, he said, because it was like starting "cold turkey" with no laps to get a feel for the track before making qualifying runs. The two-time Cup champion said that was something he was "terrible" at.

Ultimately, the team had time to make three qualifying runs before the session ended, leaving Stewart 13th on the speed chart (David Reutimann was fastest).

"I apologized to (Grubb) because I don't think I did a very good job that session," Stewart said. "I normally like to start off in race trim and get some laps under our belt. (Then) when we switch over for qualifying, I've got a better idea on what the track is doing and where we need to be and where my marks are and all that.

"I didn't feel like I did a very good job there, just going out cold turkey in qualifying trim like that."

Because of the shortened session, Stewart and the rest of the Cup drivers have only a few laps of data to help them guess which changes will work in the upcoming qualifying session. Stewart's first lap was his fastest, so that will guide his team's decision-making, he said.

"I think we're actually going to go back to what we started with," Stewart said. "The second and third runs didn't feel as good as the first one, so we're going to go back to where we started and just kind of tweak off that a little bit."

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