Potential top-five slips away from Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Team at Richmond.
Tony Stewart had high hopes that a trip to his favorite track might cure what has been ailing his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team, and that looked to be the case with only three laps remaining in the Toyota Owners 400 Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
It was a rough ending to a night that started in a similar fashion. The No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS was quite a handful during the first third of the 400-lap race.
Stewart had battled a tight-handling issue in the middle of the turns all day Friday, and the problem persisted well into Saturday’s race. Mired in the 27th position during a caution on lap 159, crew chief Steve Addington elected to bring the car in for four tires and fuel while most of the field stayed on the track.
The fresh tires were the catalyst needed to spur the No. 14 Chevy as Stewart started making steady progress through the field, cracking the top-15 for the first time on lap 218 and running as high as 10th during the next 100 laps around the track.
Things started to go downhill for three-time Sprint Cup Series champ Stewart as the laps wound down. While battling Jimmie Johnson for the 11th position on lap 328, Stewart got free at the exit of turn two and slid up into Johnson to bring out the eighth caution of the night.
Stewart suffered minimal damage in the incident and returned in 23rd place for the restart. Although the handling wasn’t perfect, Stewart was able to climb to 11th when the last caution of the race was displayed on lap 396, forcing the event into a green-white-checkered finish.
Because fresh tires had been the call all night, Addington brought Stewart to pit road for new rubber but elected for right-side tires only in an effort to pick up track position. The call placed Stewart in fifth place for the restart, but it also put him at the mercy of drivers with four new tires lined up directly behind him.
When green-flag racing resumed, drivers with four tires gained ground on Stewart, who enduring a good deal of beating and banging at the hands of a few drivers, Busch in particular.
The jostling after the restart took Stewart out of contention for a top-five and also outside of the top-15 when the checkered flag waved. Stewart displayed his displeasure with Busch on the track during the cool-down laps before taking the discussion inside the garage.
“He just rammed right into us there at the end,” said Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup winner at Richmond (September 1999, May 2001 and May 2002). “It hadn’t been a great weekend, but we had made some adjustments and were actually going to leave here with a decent finish until everything that happened at the end.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet for SHR, finished 15th while Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 29th in her 19th career Sprint Cup start and her first at Richmond.
Kevin Harvick won the Toyota Owners 400 to score his 20th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Richmond.
Clint Bowyer finished .343 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Burton rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Aric Almirola, Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 75 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 406-lap race, which was extended six laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
With round nine of 36 complete, Newman continues to lead the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He moved up one spot to 16th and has 229 points, 114 back of series leader Johnson and 42 points behind 10th-place Paul Menard.
Stewart fell one spot to 22nd in the standings and has 207 points, 136 out of first and 64 behind Menard. Patrick dropped one spot to 26th in the standings and has 169 points, 174 behind Johnson and 102 away from Menard.
Seventeen 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 13 spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 16th.