Tony Stewart used the last 100 laps of the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to rally to an 11th-place finish.
It was Stewart’s 11th top-12 result in 15 career Sprint Cup starts at Las Vegas, and it gained Stewart valuable spots in the championship point standings. He stands 18th after a crash in the season-opening Daytona 500 three races ago left him 37th in points.
Stewart fought a loose-handling racecar for much of the 267-lap race around the 1.5-mile oval. But crew chief Steve Addington kept making chassis adjustments, and after a lap-162 pit stop while under caution, the cumulative effect of those changes started to take shape.
Beginning with a restart on lap 166, Stewart wheeled his Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy into the “lucky dog” position – where the first car one lap down gets its lap back during a caution.
That caution came on lap 196, and after beating Jeff Gordon and SHR teammate Ryan Newman for the 16th spot, Stewart was back on the lead lap.
In the green-flag laps before that caution, Stewart turned laps as fast as the leaders. With four fresh Goodyears and a full tank of fuel, Stewart set his sights on tracking down those leaders.
With 50 laps to go, Stewart was 15th. He was 14th when the race’s final caution came out on lap 237, when Stewart stayed on the racetrack to gain important track position.
When the race restarted on lap 242, Stewart was 12th. After a full lap of green-flag racing, he cracked the top-10 for the first time.
With 20 laps to go, Stewart was still 10th. Kevin Harvick nipped Stewart for the position five laps later, but Stewart held onto 11th for the final 15 laps.
“We just worked on our Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy all day,” Stewart said. “It’s pretty impressive to end up where we did knowing how we started the race.
Steve Addington and the crew did a really good job all race long because there wasn’t one routine pit stop the whole day. Everybody had to do their part today to salvage what we got out of it.”
Stewart’s SHR teammates – Newman and Danica Patrick – endured their struggles at Las Vegas, too.
Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet, finished 38th after suffering an engine failure. Patrick, in just her first Sprint Cup start at Las Vegas, finished 33rd in her GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.
With round three of 36 complete, Stewart leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is 18th, 57 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson. Patrick is 30th, 76 points out of first. Newman is 31st, 79 points behind Johnson.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 15 spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 18th.
Matt Kenseth won the Kobalt Tools 400 to score his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Las Vegas. Kenseth celebrated his 41st birthday Sunday and became the third driver in Sprint Cup history to win on his birthday. Cale Yarborough accomplished it twice, while Kyle Busch did it once.
Kasey Kahne, who led six times for a race-high 114 laps, finished .594 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Busch and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 25 laps, with five drivers failing to finish.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Food City 500 Sunday, March 17 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Stewart Haas Racing