Stewart has a quiet finale at Monster Mile

DOVER — There was no triumphant farewell for Tony Stewart as the fiery driver took on the high banks of Dover International Speedway one final time before he hangs up his helmet at the end of the season.

Rather, Stewart failed to make much forward progress throughout the Citizen Soldier 400 Sprint Cup race at Dover and drove to an uneventful 13th-place finish on a cloud-covered Sunday afternoon.

Stewart’s performance was not enough to propel him into the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship race. He started 15th and lingered around that spot through the race’s 400 miles.

Oddly enough, the often outspoken driver left Dover in his rear-view mirror quietly.

“Dover’s been a good track to us in the past, but hasn’t been lately,” said Stewart, who didn’t have a top-10 finish over his last five starts at the Monster Mile after winning the spring race in 2013.

Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, finishes his career with three victories in 35 starts at Dover.

The 45-year-old driver was expecting a crazy day heading into the Citizen Soldier 400 on Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval, but the wildness never really developed.

“What we have seen the last couple of years is a very good example of how chaotic and hectic each phase of the playoffs are,” Stewart said, prior to the race. “There is so much emphasis on winning that guys are going way above what they normally do just to ensure they go to the next round.

“There’s no lack of intensity there. It seems like the further into the Chase you get, that energy and intensity ramp up.”

Stewart was one of four drivers – along with Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray and underdog Chris Buescher – who were eliminated from title contention after each of them encountered separate struggles at Dover.

Austin Dillon, by virtue of his eighth-place finish, was the only driver who was able to break his way into the Round of 12 among those who entered Dover on the outside of the cutoff point looking in.

“We did have a fast race car and I’m proud of that,” Dillon said. “I’m proud to be moving on to the Round of 12 where I have some really solid tracks [coming up].

“We didn’t panic. I had a lot of people telling me not to worry. I never heard anything about the points until 10 [laps] to go and they said I was 11 [points] to the good – and that was about it.”

Dillon and McMurray both began Sunday’s race just five points behind Larson for the final transfer spot.

Larson experienced trouble early and often, suffering from a malfunctioning battery and a pit-road penalty just 38 laps into the race. He finished a disappointing 25th, sixth laps off the pace.

“I guess it was kind of my whole stock car career kind of piled up into the first 50 laps there with bad luck,” Larson said. “We had a battery issue and too many men over the wall [on
the pit stop].

“I know we have the speed to have made it past a couple of rounds but my typical luck I guess, it just doesn’t work out.”

Larson said the two laps that he lost when he had to serve a drive-through penalty from NASCAR for having too many men over the wall turned out to be too much to overcome. He also had a brush with the wall midway through the race.

“We probably would have been all right if we didn’t have too many men over the wall because we only lost a lap with the battery about going dead,” he said. “I had to do the drive-through [penalty] and lost another two laps. Once you get down more than one lap really you’re kind of screwed here.

“It just didn’t work out but our team’s come a long way this season from where we started the year.”

Meanwhile, McMurray had his engine erupt while racing down the front straightaway on lap 193 and he was saddled with a last-place finish among the 40 cars.

The massive cloud of smoke that trailed his car filled the air all the way down the frontstretch.

Buescher was the surprise participant in this year’s Chase after he claimed a rain-shortened win at Pocono over the summer. He drove to a 23rd-place finish at Dover but finished 40 points away from the cutoff point.

It has still been a remarkable season for Buescher, who won the Xfinity Series championship last year.

“Our guys worked hard and we put in all the effort all year to be in this situation,” he said. “We’ve got our heads held high. It was awesome to be a part of the Chase.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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