Lined up next to race leader Jimmie Johnson with three laps to go in the Southern 500 and coming to the green flag, Tony Stewart was in excellent shape to finally do something he had never done before: Win at Darlington Raceway.
In 19 previous attempts, Stewart had failed to go to Victory Lane at Darlington – one of just two tracks on the circuit where the driver/owner was without a Sprint Cup Series win (the other is Kentucky).
But as the green flag waved, Stewart's car ran out of fuel and he wasn't able to keep pace with the 48 car of Johnson. Gone into the night was his chance to get that ever-elusive victory on the track referred to as the "Lady in Black."
Instead, for the 20th time in his career, Stewart was shut out of the winner's circle as he finished third behind Johnson and second-place finisher Denny Hamlin, who powered by the sputtering Stewart heading into Turn 1.
Afterward, Stewart was in a far different mood than he was a week ago at Talladega when he voiced his displeasure with the style of racing that had just taken place.
This time, the defending Sprint Cup champion was far more positive, focusing his attention on the many hurdles he and his team had to overcome to what was Stewart's fourth career top-five finish at Darlington.
"It's why we won a championship last year," Stewart said. "We never give up. Steve (Addington, crew chief) kept me positive. He was calm the whole time. He kept saying, 'I'll work on it, I'll get it fixed.' It just kept me calm. Sure enough, we finally got it to do one thing and then we could work on it from there and try to get it the rest of the way."
All around, it was an eventful night for the Stewart-Haas Racing team he co-owns, as the crew for Ryan Newman got into a post-race shoving match on pit road with the crew for Kurt Busch. And of course, there was Danica Patrick making her Sprint Cup debut on the track "Too Tough to Tame."
Stewart wasn't sure what transpired to instigate the scuffle on pit road, but he did have high praise for his other driver.
"Yeah, I got to watch a lot tonight, even if it was from afar," Stewart said. "I'm ecstatic with the results. Don't know where she finished; don't know how many laps down she was. She ran good lap times tonight. There was a period of the race where she said her balance was at her best, she was within a one-tenth (of a second) of the leaders at that point in the race.
"Really, really proud of her."