Mar 15, 2014, 3:36 PM EDT
A poor car sent Tony Stewart to a 33rd place finish last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which continued his problematic comeback from a broken leg that ended his 2013 season last summer.
The three-time Sprint Cup champion appears to be up against it again this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway after qualifying 37th – the worst out of the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing camp.
But while SHR struggles to get competitive across the board outside of Kevin Harvick (who won two weeks ago at Phoenix and was a threat in Vegas until his car suffered a wheel hub failure), the team’s vice president of competition – and Stewart’s former crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing – says that the sometimes combustible Stewart has not lost his cool over the early struggles.
“We’re just not giving him what he’s comfortable with,” Greg Zipadelli admitted to the AP’s Jenna Fryer. “We’re dragging the racetrack. It’s not little things. It’s way off. Last week [at Vegas] was a human error. He did an amazing job driving that car. I went down in the corner and watched it and most people would have wrecked that thing.
“We got it home and found some mechanical, human error. Shame on us. That stuff can’t happen at this level. It certainly shouldn’t happen to that caliber of driver. We owe him a lot more than that.”
It should also be noted that in addition to recovering from his leg injury, Stewart has also been trying to find the proper rhythm with a new crew chief in former Michael Waltrip Racing member Chad Johnston.
From Zipadelli’s standpoint, Stewart and Johnston have been improving in regards to communication and that eventually, a “platform” will be found to help Stewart return to contender status.
“It seems every week they start a little bit behind in trying to figure out what he wants,” Zipadelli added. “I feel like the group we have there will do a really good job once we find that platform that Tony wants.
“They’re very detailed, understanding and will be able to tune and be able to bring him the same thing week in and week out once they find it.”
But in the here and now, Stewart faces a tall task tomorrow as he aims to move from deep within the field. Bristol has not been one of his better tracks in recent years, with just one Top-5 finish (a second in the 2010 spring race) in his last 10 starts there.