Mark Martin, driving in place of the injured Tony Stewart, overcame some early adversity in the Irwin Tools Night Race Saturday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway to score a respectable 20th-place finish at the .533-mile oval.

Mark Martin, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Mark Martin, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Martin was behind the wheel of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) for the first time in an illustrious NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career that now stands at 871 career starts. He rallied from as low as 32nd to keep the No. 14 car competitive in the Sprint Cup owner standings.

The No. 14 car is 13th with 677 points, 144 behind the series-leading No. 48 team of Hendrick Motorsports but only eight points behind the 10th-place No. 22 team of Penske Racing. Stewart, out of the car indefinitely, dropped to 19th in driver points. He has 594 points, 227 out of first and 91 behind 10th-place Joey Logano.

“We missed the setup really bad at the beginning of the race,” Martin said. “We struggled with the car in trying to get it better, and then I pitted wrong and cost us a lap, and that was the beginning of the end. We tried to pull pit strategy to get back on the lead lap.

We took a gamble and lost a couple more laps by pitting under the green, and then having a caution come out on the lap where we came back out. We had some tough luck and a few things that we could’ve done better, but we were pretty fast at the end.

That’s why I go home feeling good about it because we were able to improve the car and get it competitive, and that’s hard to do with the short pit stops that we get here.

“The guys did a good job. I think we’ll be better. Our practice time was so short yesterday, and we had so much trouble. We just needed another day to be ready for tonight, really.

“We took a stab at it this morning and missed it pretty good. We were able to adjust to that during the race, get it up off the racetrack and get it competitive at the end to where we were a top-10 car. The positive is the guys did a great job. It was just a short day yesterday, and we didn’t have a chance to get it right. This one is behind us, and we’ll move ahead from here.”

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 21st after spending the majority of the race among the top-10. Newman was one of eight drivers involved in a multi-car accident on lap 448. He was able to complete the race, but finished three laps down.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Go Daddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 26th. It was Patrick’s 34th career Sprint Cup start and her third at Bristol.

Matt Kenseth won the Irwin Tools Night Race to score his 29th career Sprint Cup victory, his fifth of the season and his third at Bristol.

Kasey Kahne finished .188 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Juan Pablo Montoya, Brian Vickers and Logano rounded out the top-five. Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 11 caution periods for 74 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.

With round 24 of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He maintained his 15th-place standing and has 659 points, 162 back of series leader Jimmie Johnson and 26 behind 10th-place Logano. Patrick maintained her 27th-place standing and has 436 points, 385 behind Johnson and 249 away from Logano.

Just two races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase.

Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.

Martin Truex Jr., who is 14th in points, has the first wild card via his win earlier this season at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. Newman holds the second wild card as he is 15th in points with one victory, earned in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stewart is next in line for the wild card by virtue of his victory at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and 19th-place point standing.

Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished eight spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 18th.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the AdvoCare 500 on Sunday, Sept. 1 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.

SHR