In what seemed like a case of déjà vu, Tony Stewart fought an ill-handling racecar to finish 21st in the STP 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at a cold, blustery Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. Just a week earlier at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Stewart fought an ill-handling racecar to finish – you guessed it – 21st.
Stewart is more than a race behind 10th-place Paul Menard, a daunting fact. Eighteen 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 drivers 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.)
Not only is Stewart on the outside looking in at the top-10, he’s on the outside of the top-20. In 14 years in Sprint Cup, Stewart’s worst point finish is 11th. And only once since the inception of the Chase in 2004 has Stewart missed the cut – 2006, when he finished 11th.
While no one will argue Stewart’s season has not gone well, history remains on his side. Consider this: Stewart has won at least one race in each of his 14 Sprint Cup seasons – the longest streak of any active driver; Stewart has won at least two Sprint Cup races in every year but one (2008); Of Stewart’s 47 career Sprint Cup victories, only four have come before May; Stewart is streaky. He has won back-to-back Sprint Cup races nine times.
There is still a lot of racing left – before the Chase begins and throughout the season. More racing means more opportunity, and the next opportunity for Stewart and Co. comes Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, where Stewart has six total wins – three in Sprint Cup, two in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and one in a Late Model stock car.
There wasn’t any quit in Stewart in 2011 when he ended a 32-race victory drought by winning five races in the Chase to take his third Sprint Cup championship, and there isn’t any quit in Stewart in 2013.
Emulating that never-quit attitude in the STP 400 at Kansas were Stewart’s SHR teammates Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick.
Newman, driver of the No. 39 Code 3 Associates Chevrolet SS finished 14th. Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS, finished 25th. Both drivers had to overcome adversity – Newman with an ill-handling car and Patrick with trash on her grill that began to overheat her engine, which necessitated a green-flag pit stop that put her two laps down.
Newman continues to lead the SHR contingent in the championship point standings, but dropped one spot to 17th. He has 200 points, 111 back of series leader Jimmie Johnson and 40 points behind 10th-place Menard. Stewart moved up one spot to 21st. Patrick also moved up one spot and is 25th with 154 points, 157 behind Johnson and 86 away from Menard.
Matt Kenseth won the STP 400 to score his 26th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Kansas.
Kasey Kahne finished .150 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola, Mark Martin and Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 40 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.
Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR)