No Hollywood Ending for Stewart in Kansas
Office Depot/Mobil 1 Driver Finishes 15th in Hollywood Casino 400
Tony Stewart may not have had the winning car in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, but he appeared to have the second-best car. Appearances crashed headlong into reality, however, when a series of late-race issues conspired to leave Stewart a disappointing 15th.
From lap 107 to lap 225, and then again from lap 229 to lap 241, Stewart ran second to eventual race-winner Jimmie Johnson. Making the run even more impressive was that Stewart started the 272-lap race, which went five laps past its scheduled distance due to a green-white-checkered finish, from 23rd in the 43-car field.
Changing track conditions in the latter part of the race, where temperatures cooled as more clouds rolled in on the 1.5-mile oval, affected the balance of Stewart’s No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet ever so slightly. So when the caution flag waved on lap 240, Stewart headed to pit road and took four fresh tires. Most other drivers, however, took two tires, and two more drivers – Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin – opted not to pit at all so they could restart first and second, respectively, when the green flag dropped on lap 245.
The varying strategies, which included Stewart’s four-tire stop, put him 11th for the restart.
With 10 cars now ahead of Stewart, the clean air he enjoyed when only Johnson was ahead of him was gone. At the same time, the race was nearing its end, and every driver was fighting for every spot. Forward progress wasn’t as easy as it had been earlier in the race, yet with 10 laps to go, Stewart had rallied to seventh.
Johnson and his nearest pursuers, meanwhile, stretched out a sizeable margin over Stewart, so when Jeff Gordon’s engine expired on lap 265 to bring out the caution and set up a green-white-checkered finish, Stewart saw it as a time to capitalize.
The solid Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy he had used earlier in the race to run in second place for 130 laps wasn’t nearly as solid as the race drew to a close, but the caution would allow Stewart to bolt on four fresh Goodyears while the rest of his competitors would have to run their old tires in the two-lap shootout to the finish. The added grip provided by the new tires would, theoretically, allow Stewart to carve his way back into the top-five and maybe even the top-three.
But the pit stop had to be completed first, and that’s where the plan went awry. As Stewart drove toward his pit stall, his foot caught the accelerator as he went to hit the brake. The unexpected dose of throttle was just enough to send Stewart spinning sideways into his stall, which meant that his crew had to push him back before they could complete the pit stop. Instead of emerging from pit road in 10th or 11th spot, Stewart came out 17th, the last car on the lead lap.
It was an honest mistake, and one in which Stewart took sole responsibility. But mired in 17th, two green-flag laps did not allow sufficient time to make a run into the top-10. Stewart managed to pick up only two spots, crossing the stripe in 15th when the checkered flag waved.
Stewart’s teammate, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing, finished 18th.
Johnson’s win in the Hollywood Casino 400 was his 55th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Kansas. Johnson is now tied with Rusty Wallace for eighth on the all-time Sprint Cup win list. The victory also allowed Chevrolet to clinch its 35th manufacturer’s title.
Kasey Kahne finished .548 of a second behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for 25 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish.
Stewart and Newman are both in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup and came into Kansas third and 11th, respectively. Stewart was nine points behind leader Harvick, while Newman was 41 points out of the top spot. Stewart leaves Kansas seventh in points, 19 markers behind new Chase leader Edwards. Newman remained 11th in the standings, but is now 54 points out of first.