Mobil 1 driver runs out of fuel on final lap while in second place.
Tony Stewart was poised to earn another strong result Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon when the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS lined up in second place for a green-white-checkered finish in the Camping World RV Sales 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
But on the final lap around the 1.058-mile oval, Stewart ran out of gas. As Vickers drove to victory, Stewart’s car sputtered off turn two. Forced to coast all the way down the backstretch and through turns three and four, Stewart rolled down pit road where he crossed the finish line a gut-wrenching 26th.
“It’s hard to calculate how much you’re saving on the cautions,” said Stewart, who finished second in the series’ previous race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. “Thought we were about three quarters of a lap to the good before that last caution. Obviously, didn’t get as much gas saved as I thought we would.”
The outcome dropped Stewart out of the top-10 in points to 13th. He is a scant five points behind 10th-place Kasey Kahne and still eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Only the top-10 in points are locked into the 12-driver Chase. Positions 11 and 12 are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. In the event of multiple drivers having the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Martin Truex Jr., who is 11th in points, and Stewart are the only drivers between 11th and 20th in points with a victory, so they hold the first and second wild-card spots, respectively. Seven races remain before the 10-race Chase begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
“We had a good car all day,” said Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion who has qualified for the Chase eight times since its inception in 2004. “I was pretty excited because we were much better than we were yesterday (in practice). We got caught in traffic early on, but with some pit strategy, we got up front and stayed there.
“Track position was pretty important. We didn’t have the best car, by any means. Even the ones who had the best cars, it looked like they had trouble passing, so track position was key. We weren’t going to win the race, but if we hadn’t run out of fuel, we were going to run second.”
Seeing Vickers’ late-race charge from his rearview mirror, Stewart knew it would be hard to hold him off.
“I knew if he got by Kyle (Busch) that we were going to be in trouble,” Stewart said. “He had been able to stalk Kyle for a really long time. It was hard to stay that close to somebody for very long. I knew when he got by that we were in trouble.”
As tough as Stewart’s day was, it paled in comparison to the one endured by his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammates.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 37th after being involved in an accident on lap 238 with Travis Kvapil and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Patrick’s car was too damaged to complete the race.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Stenhouse, finished three spots behind him, as he placed 34th.
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet for SHR, finished 39th after getting collected in an accident on lap 226 with Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Kahne. Like Patrick’s machine, Newman’s car was too damaged to continue.
With round 19 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He dropped three spots to 13th and has 518 points, 178 back of series leader Jimmie Johnson. Newman also dropped three spots and is 19th in the standings. He has 487 points, 209 out of first and 36 behind 10th-place Kahne. Patrick dropped two spots to 27th and has 350 points, 346 behind Johnson and 173 away from Kahne.
Vickers’ win in the Camping World RV Sales 301 was his third career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at New Hampshire.
Kyle Busch finished .582 of a second behind Vickers in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Burton, Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola rounded out the top-five. Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kenseth and Jeff Gordon comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 12 caution periods for 58 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 302-lap race, which was extended one lap by a green-white-checkered finish.
Sprint Cup teams will enjoy their second and final off-weekend of the 2013 season before embarking on a slate of 17 straight races, beginning with the July 28 Brickyard 400 at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 20th running of the event begins at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at noon.