In the longest race of the year, Tony Stewart scored his best finish of the year.
Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished seventh in the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday night at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Stewart started 25th in the 43-car field and led once for six laps en route to his 13th top-10 in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile oval. It was his second top-10 this season, and it bettered his previous season-best finish of eighth earned 10 races ago in March at Phoenix International Raceway.
The small tweak produced big results, as Stewart rallied from 12th after a lap-339 restart to crack the top-10 for the first time on lap 341. Stewart stayed among the top-10 for the remainder of the race, using a 10-lap dash to the finish following the race’s final restart on lap 390 to climb from 10th to seventh before the checkered flag dropped. Stewart finished right behind his SHR teammate Ryan Newman, who came home sixth in the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS.
For SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli, it was the proverbial light at the end of tunnel after many trying weeks.
“All three of our cars made big improvements this week in terms of performance, and we ended up with a couple of good finishes,” Zipadelli said. “Danica (Patrick) had a bad day, but overall it was certainly an improvement.”
Newman’s sixth-place result was his sixth top-10 of the season and his ninth top-10 in 25 career Sprint Cup starts at Charlotte.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 15 laps down in 29th after being collected in an accident on lap 320 that drastically affected her car’s handling.
Kevin Harvick won the Coca-Cola 600 to score his 21st career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Charlotte.
Kasey Kahne finished 1.49 seconds behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Newman, Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 61 laps, with 12 drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race. The race was delayed three times for separate incidents which forced NASCAR to display the red flag. The first two of the three red-flag periods were for a camera cable that fell on the track and caused damage to a handful of cars. The first red flag was displayed for 10 minutes and 40 seconds with the second following quickly after the first and lasting 16 minutes and 22 seconds. The third red flag was displayed for an accident on lap 327, delaying the racing action for nine minutes and 13 seconds.
With round 12 of 36 complete, Newman continues to lead the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He rose one spot to 16th and has 315 points, 130 back of series leader Jimmie Johnson and 20 points behind 10th-place Brad Keselowski. Stewart also gained one spot to crack the top-20. He is 20th with 291 points, 154 out of first and 44 behind Keselowski. Patrick lost two positions and is now 30th with 211 points, 234 behind Johnson and 124 away from Keselowski.
Fourteen 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 15 spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 14th.