Handling issues plagued the number 14 car all night
Tony Stewart’s weekend at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City was a series of ups and downs, and it ended on Saturday night with a 20th-place finish in the 5-hour-Energy 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
In the first Sprint Cup practice on Friday, Stewart was a lowly 31st on the speed charts. But after some serious troubleshooting, Stewart and Co. emerged for final Sprint Cup practice with an improved chassis setup. It was so improved, it allowed Stewart to set the quickest time in final practice. From nearly worst to first, Stewart carried that momentum into qualifying, where he placed his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) eighth in the 43-car field.
Hopes were high Saturday night when the green flag dropped on the 267-lap race around the 1.5-mile oval. Stewart cracked the top-five on lap six with a pass of Kyle Larson and after 20 laps, was turning the fastest laps on the racetrack.
After 100 laps, Stewart was a solid sixth, and he advanced to third on lap 119 when he caught a caution just before he was about to make a green-flag pit stop.
Stewart stayed among the top-five for the next 32 laps of green-flag racing. When the caution came out again on lap 151, Stewart and crew chief Chad Johnston opted to make a two-tire pit stop in an effort to gain track position. It worked, as Stewart came off pit road in second place behind Kasey Kahne.
But on lap 177 when Stewart dropped to eighth, he keyed the radio and said, “I need the drivability back. Put some wedge in this thing.”
The worn left-side tires on the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet weren’t providing the grip needed to successfully navigate the progressive banking of Kansas’ corners. During the next caution period on lap 181, Stewart pitted for four tires, fuel and a left-rear wedge adjustment.
The only problem to this strategy was that many of those who had been behind Stewart opted for a two-tire pit stop, and they leapfrogged the three-time Sprint Cup champion, leaving him 17th for the lap-185 restart.
Now in traffic, Stewart was trapped in the dirty air of the cars around him. Everyone was seemingly running the same speed, and despite taking each opportunity when the caution flag waved to bolt on four fresh Goodyears and adjust the chassis of the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 machine, no forward progress could be made.
On lap 255, 12 laps short of the finish, Stewart was forced to come to pit road for a quick splash-and-go. While it took only two second for gas man Justin White to pour just enough fuel into the car to get it to the finish, it felt like an eternity. More track position was lost, and when the final lap clicked off the board, Stewart crossed the stripe in 20th.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for SHR, started from the pole and led four times for a race-high 119 laps en route to his third top-five in 17 career Sprint Cup starts at Kansas. It was his third top-five this season and his 103rd top-five in 477 career Sprint Cup starts.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, started ninth and finished a career-best seventh. It was the second top-10 of her career, as she finished eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, started sixth and finished 29th after spinning twice.
Jeff Gordon won the 5-hour Energy 400 to score his 89th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Kansas. He is third behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105) on the Sprint Cup all-time win list.
Harvick finished .112 of a second behind Gordon in the runner-up spot, while Kahne, Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Patrick, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 47 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish.
With round 11 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is 15th with 302 points, 92 behind series leader Gordon. Stewart is 22nd with 268 points, 126 out of first. Patrick is 27th with 213 points, 181 out of first. Busch is 28th with 211 points, 183 out of first.