Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. But Tony Stewart was a little bit of both Sunday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, where he earned a hard-fought fifth-place finish in the Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Driving a backup car, Stewart started 14th and overcame a weekend full of handling issues in the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) to score his 12th top-five in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2-mile oval.
Two of the guys ahead of us – one had fuel trouble and one had a tire issue – so we got some breaks going our way today. It was a good weekend for me (after) putting us in a hole as far as I did on Friday crashing our primary car. But I’m proud of these guys, and I’m definitely proud of the effort this week. I thought our guys did a good job.”
Stewart was forced to the backup car after wrecking during the opening minutes of Friday’s lone practice session. The No. 14 team spent the rest of the weekend massaging the handling on the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy. The effort paid off as Stewart raced his way into the top-10 in the opening laps of the 400-mile race Sunday, climbing to seventh-place by lap 15.
Despite the forward progress, the handling on the No. 14 Chevy wasn’t quite right as Stewart kept reporting the car felt “down in the left rear.” Further complicating the situation was a tight-handling condition in the center of the turns that persisted regardless of adjustments. But three-time Sprint Cup champion Stewart dug in and never ran lower than 15th throughout the race.
Green-flag pit stops had started taking place when the last caution of the race was displayed on lap 166 for an incident that involved Jamie McMurray pounding the outside retaining wall. Stewart was one of a handful of drivers who had yet to make their stop, placing the No. 14 Chevrolet in seventh-place for what would be the final trip down pit road.
Quick pit work placed Stewart in fourth for the final restart. Although he lost a few positions when green-flag racing resumed, Stewart was the benefactor of some misfortune that befell a few of his peers in the closing laps. The result was a fifth-place finish, giving the driver/owner his third straight top-five in Sprint Cup competition.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 13th to score her third top-15 finish of the season.
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for SHR, finished 18th.
Greg Biffle won the Quicken Loans 400 to score his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his fourth at Michigan.
Kevin Harvick finished 2.989 seconds behind Biffle the runner-up spot, while Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Stewart rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Jeff Burton comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 38 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 200-lap race.
With round 15 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He moved up three spots to 10th and has 417 points, 121 back of series leader Jimmie Johnson and two points ahead of 11th-place Paul Menard.
Newman maintained his 18th-place standing and has 389 points, 149 out of first and 28 behind Stewart. Patrick picked up one spot to 27th in the standings and has 277 points, 261 points behind Johnson and 140 away from Stewart.
Eleven 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.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished three spots ahead of Stenhouse, who placed 16th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Toyota/Save Mart 350k on Sunday, June 23 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT, with live coverage of the road-course event provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m.