Tony Stewart endures up-and-down day in STP Gas Booster 500
Tony Stewart was looking for a boost in the STP Gas Booster 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. After a potential top-five finish slipped away in the series’ last race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., a strong run in the series’ next stop at Martinsville would allow Stewart and Co. to hit the reset button on its still-young season.
But after rallying his No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet from its 26th starting spot to 10th by lap 200 and then hovering in or near the top-10 for the remainder of the race, Stewart found himself hung in the outside lane following a restart on lap 473. The final 27 laps of the 500-lap race around paperclip-shaped .526-mile oval proved arduous, as Stewart was stuck in the outside lane as the seemingly express lane to his left boxed him out of the preferred line. When the checkered flag dropped, Stewart was 17th.
While Stewart the driver didn’t have the best of days at Martinsville, his role as car owner was buoyed by the performance of his SHR teammate Danica Patrick.
Patrick led the way for SHR by finishing 12th in the STP Gas Booster 500. Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS, scored her best Sprint Cup result since finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500. It came at one of the most difficult Sprint Cup venues, as Martinsville’s layout, with its tight corners and short straightaways, makes jockeying among 42 other drivers interesting, to say the least.
The STP Gas Booster 500 marked Patrick’s 16th career Sprint Cup start but her first at Martinsville. Her rookie performance bested those of some other name drivers in their Martinsville debuts, most notably, her team owner, as Stewart finished 20th in his first Martinsville start (1999). Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson finished 35th in his Martinsville debut (2002). NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace finished 15th (1984). Dale Jarrett finished 14th (1984). Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 26th (2000). Kyle Busch finished 39th (2005). Matt Kenseth finished 21st (2000). Kurt Busch finished 37th (2000). Fred Lorenzen finished 24th (1956).
Enduring an even more frustrating day than Stewart was fellow SHR teammate Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS. Newman finished 31st after sustaining back-to-back, flat right-front tires that left him eight laps down.
With round six of 36 complete, Stewart leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He maintained his 22nd-place standing and is 96 points behind new series leader Johnson. Newman fell three positions to 23rd, 97 points out of first. Patrick gained three spots to climb to 26th, 112 points behind Johnson.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 13 spots ahead of Stenhouse, who placed 25th.
Johnson won the STP Gas Booster 500 to score his 62nd career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his eighth at Martinsville. Johnson is the winningest active Sprint Cup driver in Martinsville history. He trails only Richard Petty (15 wins) and Darrell Waltrip (11 wins) on the track’s all-time win list, which has played host to the Sprint Cup Series since 1949.
Clint Bowyer finished .627 of a second behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 12 caution periods for 85 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.