Throughout the last 100 laps of Sunday's race at New Hampshire, the prevalence of caution flags was playing into Tony Stewart and team's strategy.
Stewart had last pitted on lap 203 and every caution period was another chance to extend the laps he could go on his fuel tank. He had the lead and the very important clean air that came with it and it was looking like he would have the gas to make it too.
But Stewart lost that lead with 15 laps to go when he was passed by Brian Vickers. And shortly after that, a yellow flag played against his favor.
Had the race stayed green and ended on its scheduled lap 301, Stewart and co. thought that he would have a surplus of three-quarters of a lap of fuel in his tank. However, when the caution flag flew on lap 297, that meant the race would be extended.
Stewart's fuel tank didn't make it. After restarting second to Vickers on the race's green-white-checker restart, Stewart hung tough in second place through the first half of the penultimate lap. Then going into turn three the car slowed. And through turns three and four, it slowed for good. Stewart was out of gas.
It was a strategy that almost worked. Entering New Hampshire 1oth in the points, wins were not only important for Chase bonus purposes, but also in case Stewart was to fall out of the top 10 and need the Wild Card, a position he's now in after finishing 26th.
However, the points hit isn't what it could have been. With seven races to go, Stewart is now 13th, five points behind Kasey Kahne in 10th, and the drivers from 9th-14th are separated by 23 points.
9. Brad Keselowski, 529 points: With his fifth place finish, Keselowski vaulted up four spots in the standings. That's important because he doesn't have (yet) a win to fall back on for the wild card.
10. Kasey Kahne, -6 points: Kahne almost had a repeat of Daytona, with another wild backstretch ride late in the race. This time he saved it and recovered to finish 11th and move up two positions.
11. Martin Truex Jr., -8 points: After crashing out at Daytona, Truex holds serve in 11th with a 16th place finish. He has Wild Card #1 by virtue of his win at Sonoma.
12. Jeff Gordon, -8 points: Gordon loses the tiebreaker to Truex because he doesn't have a win. After being spun by Paul Menard, Gordon came back to finish 10th and move up two spots in the standings.
13. Tony Stewart, -11 points: Remember Smoke running out of gas in the lead at New Hampshire going for the win in the 2010 Chase? Because of his Dover win, he's got Wild Card #2.
14. Kurt Busch, -13 points: Busch drops five spots after his crash with Ryan Newman. Busch dove to the inside of Matt Kenseth and snuck ahead, but with Kenseth right on his bumper in turn one, Busch's car went around and took Newman's with him.
15. Jamie McMurray, -22 points: McMurray spun and crashed in practice after a tire went down with less than 10 minutes left in the session. The team fixed the car and he finished 12th.
16. Aric Almirola, -26 points: Almirola by Morning hung tough on the track position strategy late in the race and finished fifth. However, much like McMurray, he really needs a win barring mass misfortune ahead of him.
17. Jeff Burton, -30 points: Sunday was Burton's highest finish since finishing second at last year's Daytona summer race. The second sentence about Almirola applies here too.
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