Sure, a lot of things could have happened throughout the last 40 laps of Sunday's race at Pocono, but one thing was for certain throughout those first 120 laps: Tony Stewart had a fast car.
But after a pit road speeding penalty on lap 120, Stewart's fast car didn't get the result it deserved, leaving the lead to be fought for in the final laps by Junior and Keselowski.
"100 percent driver error. I just – I don't know how I got through the (dashboard) lights like I did, but I got to where I blew through all the lights and didn't have any on the tach so I had no clue that I was over it. Just 100 percent driver error. I gave my guys grief last week with a sixth place run, thought we should run in the top three and I throw it away this week."
I screwed us all up today. Really good car, really bad driver— Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) June 8, 2014
When Stewart sped, he was in the lead, a place where he had spent 24 laps. He had gotten there a bit on strategy, but mostly on speed. After starting 12th, Stewart picked off places one-by-one since the drop of the green flag. Out front he looked like a beast, capable of challenging Keselowski, who led a race-high 95 laps.
Instead, he was 31st after having to restart at the back of the pack. He never got close to the front of the field again, finishing 13th.
Stewart is winless this season, and while it's easy to say it's because of his recovery from the broken leg he sustained in a sprint car crash in August, his 2014 season doesn't look much different than his 2013 season did at this point. Through 14 races last year, he had a win, two top-fives and four top 10s. This year at that same point, he doesn't have a pit strategy (and race circumstance) win like he did at Dover last year, but he's got two top-fives and five top 10s.
While Kevin Harvick has certainly had speed – but not necessarily complete races – in his first season at Stewart-Haas Racing, Stewart is proving that capitalizing on inconsistently fast cars is hard.
Despite the pit road flub, Stewart moved up three spots to 18th in the standings. Plus, he's got some of his best tracks coming up this summer in Michigan, Sonoma, Daytona and New Hampshire. While it may not be likely, a win certainly doesn't look too unlikely either. After his 2011 campaign, in which he famously said his team wasn't Chase-worthy at Michigan in August en route to the championship, it may not be a good idea to doubt Stewart's hopes of a title until he's officially not in the Chase.
- - - - - - -