NASCAR

Stewart still can't seem to get it right

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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BRISTOL, Tenn.

For Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart on Friday, it was a tale of two drivers going in two completely different directions.

While Newman nailed the pole with a lap of 122.811 mph, Stewart's 116.397 mph lap scraped the bottom of the time sheet — the slowest of 46 cars.

Newman, who moved to 10th on the all-time list with his 46th career pole, seemed surprised by Stewart's misfortunes.

"It wasn't a good day for the No. 14," Newman said. "Obviously, you saw that in qualifying. I think it's just one of those deals where you spend a little time overnight regrouping. I felt our car was pretty good in race trim. Obviously, it worked good in qualifying trim.

"We don't ever want to see the cars that far apart, whether it's the set-up or the results because of a set-up change. But I'm happy that we've given the No. 14 an opportunity to look at our notes."

Newman says the Nos. 39 and 14 have an open book when it comes to information. The two Stewart-Haas Racing teams are constantly working together to improve the company as a whole against the larger, more established organizations.

"We always share information, there's no question about that," Newman said. "We share so much information, sometimes it's difficult to go through all the information that we share with each other. You kind of have to simplify it. But we'll both go through each other's notes, whether he was good, bad or indifferent in practice; and try to figure out what we can do to be better.

"And I've said before that sometimes, just like Buddy Baker taught me, it was sometimes better to learn what not to do than to learn what to do. The things that they changed that they didn't like maybe (are) some things that we can keep out of our car the next 12 or 13 races."

Newman's only win this season was a dominant performance at Loudon, where he started from the pole and led 119 laps. He is now currently seventh in the point standings heading into Bristol, where he's now won the pole for the third time.

Stewart will roll off 42nd on Sunday — his worst qualifying effort since he started Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009.

Stewart acknowledged he was "struggling" during practice. Last week at Michigan, he made the comment that someone more deserving should be in his position in the point standings because even if the No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet made the Chase for the championship, he didn't expect to be a contender.

But Stewart, who is currently 10th in the point standings, changed his tune a bit on Friday.

"If things can get turned around, and obviously if we knew what the problem was, we would fix it," Stewart said. "But you know it could turn around in a week; it may not turn around the rest of the year. We don't know. But the thing is, that's our main goal right now is to get this program turned around and get us back on track and get us where we know we need to be and deserve to be."

It's been 29 races since Stewart won a race in the Sprint Cup Series — the longest drought since 2008 when he went 44 events between wins. Although SHR replaced director of competition Bobby Hutchens in June, Stewart's performance hasn't changed, prompting speculation that crew chief Darian Grubb could be the next roster adjustment.

"I don't know what the change is or what we've got to do to get it right," Stewart said. "But we're not going to stop until we figure it out. We will keep working until we get it sorted out and figured out. We won't quit on it."

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But the latest three-way between Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Elliott Sadler could produce real fireworks this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The feud took on a new dimension when Busch and Sadler tangled Wednesday night in the O'Reilly 200 truck race at Bristol. Busch slid up the track into Sadler and blamed him for the contact after the No. 18 Toyota Tundra spun into the wall. Busch, believing Sadler intentionally attempted to wreck him, retaliated.

When Busch was asked why he thought Sadler took a shot at him, he replied, "Where's his paycheck come from?"

Busch finished 30th. Sadler recovered and finished ninth while Harvick won the race. Although Harvick wasn't involved in the latest incident, Busch considered him guilty by association.

"I was not even involved in any portion of the incident," Harvick said. "Hopefully, he went back and watched the race. The first thing that happened was he shoved him (Sadler) up the racetrack and he got mad because Elliott ran in the back of him, and then he drove over the front of him and wrecked himself.

"I guess good old Kyle showed up last week and was kind of pouting because he was getting his butt whipped. (If he) keeps running his mouth, he might get it whipped off the track."

Busch and Harvick's relationship is well documented. Their dislike for each other hit a crescendo at Darlington in the spring when the "boys have at it" clause jumped into high gear in the closing laps of the Southern 500. Harvick pounded Busch's bumper and the No. 18 "hooked" him. The antics continued on pit road after the race when Harvick and his crew approached Busch — but Busch punted the No. 29 Chevrolet into the wall.

NASCAR placed the drivers on probation, but before the handcuffs came off, Busch had a run-in with Harvick's owner Richard Childress at Kansas. The following week at Pocono, Harvick buzzed Busch in the opening laps until the sanctioning body warned the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet to back off.

Neither the new nor the old Kyle Busch watched the replay of Wednesday night's antics. But the current Busch, who leads the Sprint Cup point standings, said he spoke with Sadler on Friday and said "it's all good."

"Everything's fine," Busch said. "It's over, it's done with, it's in the past. We agreed on some things. It was a delightful conversation."

While Busch must only deal with Sadler in Nationwide and selected truck races, the bad blood between he and Harvick shows no signs of slowing down with both drivers headed for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

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CHANGES FOR KHI?

Kevin Harvick elected to keep his 2012 plans for KHI (Kevin Harvick Inc.) mum on Friday.

"I have no idea," Harvick said of his Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series operations.

"It will not look the same. There will be some major changes, but nothing has changed since Wednesday."

Even prior to Harvick's truck win on Wednesday, when asked about the future of KHI after Saturday's truck win in Michigan, the owner/operator said he wasn't sure of the lineup for next year.

"We're going through a lot of things," Harvick said. "We're pretty certain who's going to drive what race for the most part in the Nationwide car, but not anything else."

KHI has been a powerhouse in NASCAR's two lower series. Over the last decade, Harvick and wife Delana have built their organization from a limited-running single-team to an annual championship contender. KHI has won titles in both the Truck and Nationwide Series and have 48 victories between the two tours.

NUMBERS GAME

50 — Wins by Kyle Busch in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, breaking a tie with Mark Martin for all-time victories.

23 — Wins by Busch in his last 51 NNS starts.

.019 seconds — The closest margin of victory at Bristol Motor since electronic scoring.

SAY WHAT?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on his ninth-place position in the point standings and the pressure of making the Chase.

"You try to do the best you can throughout the year to put yourself in the best position there, but I miss the Chase, I'll probably catch a lot of (crap) about it," Earnhardt said. "It will save me a lot of (crap) if I make the Chase, so that is probably the only thing personally that I have to worry about."

Tagged: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch

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