Tony Stewart needed a strong run and he got it Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) rallied from his 28th-place starting spot in the Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to lead 15 laps before finishing fourth.
It was Stewart’s 10th top-five finish of 2012 – but first since finishing fifth five races ago at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway – and his 19th top-10 in 28 career Sprint Cup starts at Richmond. Stewart also led 15 laps to bring his laps-led total at the .75-mile oval to 950.
“To start from 28th and have to work our way up, it makes for a long night,” said Stewart, who won at Richmond in September 1999, May 2001 and May 2002. “Really proud of Steve Addington (crew chief) and all of our guys at Stewart-Haas Racing. That is what you have to do to win a championship. After last year, you can’t count anybody out. All 12 guys have a good shot right now.”
The effort secured Stewart’s position among the top-10 in points, putting him in the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the eighth time in his career. Stewart is seeded third, as his three regular-season wins give him nine bonus points (three points per win) to start the 10-race Chase, which begins Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Stewart won the Chase in 2005 and 2011 to collect his second and third Sprint Cup championships, respectively. (Stewart’s first championship came in 2002 under the old NASCAR Winston Cup Series format.)
“Knowing that it came down to one point at the end of last year, those nine points are huge right now,” said Stewart, alluding to the most resent Sprint Cup championship he won over Carl Edwards, which was decided on a tiebreaker, as each driver ended the season with the same amount of points, but Stewart earned the title by virtue of his five wins trumping Edwards’ lone victory.
“It’s proof. Nine points doesn’t sound like a lot. Three points doesn’t sound like a lot. But when it came down to the last night, one point was the biggest number you’ve ever seen in your life. These nine points – it was a big deal for us tonight to make sure we stayed in the top-10, and make sure we got those bonus points and didn’t lose them.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for SHR, finished eighth to notch his ninth top-10 finish of 2012 and his 13th top-10 in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Richmond. Newman had to win at Richmond in order to earn one of the two wild-card spots for the Chase, and while a valiant effort was made as Newman led laps 300-312, he missed out on making the Chase.
However, Newman’s top-10 run marked the seventh time this season the SHR duo finished in the top-10 together. Prior to Richmond, Stewart and Newman finished among the top-10 March 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, March 25 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., April 1 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, July 7 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, July 29 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Aug. 5 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
Clint Bowyer won the Federated Auto Parts 400 to score his seventh career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Richmond.
Jeff Gordon finished 1.198 seconds behind Bowyer in the runner-up spot, while Mark Martin, Stewart and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Jeff Burton, Brad Keselowski, Newman, Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for 41 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race, which was twice delayed by rain.
The top-10 drivers in points are eligible to compete in the Chase, along with two wild-card drivers – Kasey Kahne and Gordon – who were admitted to the Chase field by having the most wins among the drivers who were between 11th and 20th in the standings.
NASCAR recalibrated the points for the 12 drivers as soon as the Richmond race was over, with each driver getting 2,000 points. With the exception of wild-card entrants Kahne and Gordon, drivers also received three bonus points for each of their respective wins during the 26-race regular season.
For drivers starting the Chase with identical point totals, their seed was determined by the traditional tiebreaker of best finishes beyond race victories.
Ranked in order of where their bonus points seeded them, the drivers competing for this year’s championship are:
1. Denny Hamlin (2,012 points)
2. Jimmie Johnson (2,009 points, -3)
3. Tony Stewart (2,009 points, -3)
4. Brad Keselowski (2,009 points -3)
5. Greg Biffle (2,006 points, -6)
6. Clint Bowyer (2,006 points, -6)
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2,003 points, -9)
8. Matt Kenseth (2,003 points, -9)
9. Kevin Harvick (2,000 points, -12)
10. Martin Truex Jr. (2,000 points, -12)
11. Kasey Kahne (2,000 points, -12)
12. Jeff Gordon (2,000 points, -12)
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the first race of the Chase – is the Geico 400 Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 1 p.m.
Source: Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR)