Pit road was a busy place Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and perhaps no one experienced more struggles than Tony Stewart. Although he was in position to stretch his fuel at the end, Stewart's day suffered a number of setbacks on pit road, making his pursuit of a third Brickyard 400 win much more trying.
The first incident came early in the race on Lap 25 when the field began to peel onto pit road for the first round of green flag stops. As he followed Kevin Harvick in for service, the No. 29 car slowed and forced Stewart to jump to the outside. In doing so, the two made contact and the No. 14 hit the commitment cone and was issued a pass-through penalty by NASCAR.
Despite the contact with Harvick, Stewart did not see the move as blocking and said there were no hard feelings.
"It just was what it was," he said. "Kevin lifted earlier than I did coming off of Turn 4 and versus running into him, I went to the outside of him and when we got to the cone there, I was in the wrong spot. It was just one of those things, you are trying to get everything you can get. It was either hit the cone or run over the guy in front of me so I chose to hit the cone."
The penalty put Stewart in danger of going a lap down, but a caution for debris 10 laps later allowed the No. 14 to make up for the lost ground.
That was not the end of Stewart's struggles on pit road, however. Later in the race, as Stewart was entering his stall for service, Kyle Busch was leaving after a quick two-tire stop. The two made contact, damaging Busch's left-front fender and knocking Stewart's steering wheel about three inches off center.
The contact, however, did not cause any vibration and wound up hurting Busch's day more in the long run.
"It's a long pit road, but it's a narrow pit road," Stewart said. "I feel bad for Kyle and those guys because they had a good day going at that time too. Just a rough day, but we fought for everything we could get."
The team fought through the adversity and that hard work nearly paid off. In the closing laps, Stewart found himself in the top spot and in fuel conservation mode. Looking for his first victory of the 2011 season and second-straight for Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart did his best to save fuel, but was unable to make it last to the end.
Pitting with only a handful of laps left, Stewart gave up the win, but rallied back for a solid sixth-place finish.
"It was a lot of hard work by Darian Grubb (crew chief) and the guys on this Mobil 1/Office Depot team," Stewart said. "We just had a long, long hard day. To get almost a top-five out of this thing, running sixth was a good day for us."