Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Tony Stewart didn't win Sunday's rain- delayed race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but he was quite pleased with his fourth-place finish there after having a disappointing start to the season.
Since returning from his leg injury that sidelined him for the final 15 races of the 2013 season, Stewart had finished 35th in the Daytona 500 and then 16th at Phoenix and 33rd at Las Vegas. It wasn't looking good for the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion on Friday at Bristol, as he struggled in practice and then finished outside the top 36 in qualifying. He had to take a provisional and started Sunday's 500-lap race from the 37th starting spot.
With the start of the race delayed nearly two hours due to rain, Stewart quickly moved through the field and ran in the top 20 when the event was stopped for precipitation after 124 laps were completed. Three hours, 20 minutes later, the race resumed under the lights at this 0.533-mile, high- banked oval. Stewart came on strong at the end, moving into the top 10 with 70 laps to go and then eventually into the top five. It was his best finish since placing fourth last July at Indianapolis.
Stewart needed a remedy, and he got it at Bristol.
"To come to Bristol and run 500 laps here and get a top five is just what the doctor ordered," Stewart said. "It's big. This is a physical place. If you look at the lap times we were running - mid-15-second laps around here all day - it's no walk in the park, by any means. It's not a win, I know that, but it feels like a win."
Stewart suffered a broken right leg in an accident during a sprint car race last August in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He underwent three surgeries to repair his leg, including one in which a metal rod was inserted inside his fractured tibia.
He has not fully recovered from his injury, but he hasn't experienced any pain or discomfort while in the car since his return last month at Daytona.
After the Bristol race had concluded around 9:30 p.m. local time -- start time was scheduled for 1:15 p.m. -- Stewart was so pumped up about his run that he was ready to go back out for another 500 laps.
"Let's do it again," he jokingly said.
Carl Edwards won the race, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr., his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, and Aric Almirola finished second and third, respectively. Stenhouse and Almirola scored their career-best finishes in Sprint Cup.
Though Stewart had a good finish and his mood showed it in post-race interviews, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick did not have the same fortune as he did at the end.
Harvick, who won two weeks ago at Phoenix, led 28 laps in the late going before he sustained a broken oil line, which caused him to slam hard into the wall. The right-front side of Harvick's car erupted into flames while he was driving back to the garage. He finished 39th.
Busch also led laps in this race but was involved in an accident with just over 100 laps left. He was able to finish the race, 30 laps down in 35th place.
Patrick started 36th and finished 18th. She was caught up in a wreck with Cole Whitt early in the race.
"It wasn't the day we wanted for our teammates," Stewart said. "It is something I needed for sure. Obviously for Chad (Johnston, Stewart's crew chief) and I to work together for the first time for four or five races into the season and be able to get a top five at Bristol, that is pretty big for us."