Little Relief for Stewart at Martinsville
Office Depot/Mobil 1 Driver Finishes 34th in Goody’s Fast Relief 500
Tony Stewart endured a long and forgettable afternoon at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, finishing 38 laps off the pace with a 34th-place finish in Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) was ultimately undone by a broken rear-end gear which sent him to the garage for repairs in the waning laps of the 500-lap race. Quick work by the team got Stewart back onto the .526-mile oval for a handful of laps before the checkered flag dropped, averting a dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish).
“Ugly day,” said Stewart, who has seen better days at Martinsville as a two-time race winner at the unique, paperclip-shaped track. “We weren’t very good to start with, but we got the car better to where it was competitive on long runs. But the time we lost at the beginning of a run was a lot. I didn’t help our cause with that penalty there, but in the end, it didn’t really matter. I could smell the rear-end gear, and I knew it was just a matter of time before it broke. So, I just brought the car into the garage to see if we could fix it and at least finish the race.”
NASCAR dinged Stewart for passing before the start/finish line on a lap-247 restart. The infraction resulted in a pass-through penalty that put Stewart a lap down. Then, with the leaders setting a torrid pace and Stewart struggling for momentum at the onset of a run, combined with always being stuck in traffic, he lost another lap to the leaders.
Nonetheless, Stewart was looking at salvaging a top-25 finish, perhaps even a top-20 finish, for he was not the only driver experiencing difficulty. But the broken gear was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and an ugly day turned even uglier.
I could smell the rear-end gear, and I knew it was just a matter of time before it broke.
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for SHR, appeared poised to offset the struggles of Stewart and the No. 14 team. Newman led twice for three laps, but a broken header pipe with 170 laps remaining sapped his car’s horsepower, and a flat left-rear tire sent him for a spin off turn three on lap 372. The misfortune conspired to put Newman two laps down, relegating him to a 20th-place finish.
Kevin Harvick won the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 to score his 16th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Martinsville. Harvick won last Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., marking the second time in his career he’s scored back-to-back victories, the last of which came in September 2006 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished .727 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot to equal his best result since finishing second in the 2010 Daytona 500. Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-five, while Matt Kenseth, pole-sitter Jamie McMurray, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 72 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish.
With round six of 36 complete, Newman dropped four spots to sixth in the championship standings, 16 markers behind new series leader Busch. Stewart fell five positions to 11th and is 39 points out of first.