Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Driver Rises to 15th in Points


Date:  March 30, 2014

Event:  STP 500 (Round 6 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (.526-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  7th/17 (Running, completed 500 of 500 laps)

Winner:  Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing (Chevrolet)

Tony Stewart soldiered to a 17th-place finish in the STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The result boosted him two spots in the championship point standings to 15thsix races into the 36-race season.

Stewart started seventh in the 500-lap race around the rough-and-tumble .526-mile oval and kept his No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS among the top-10 for the first 75 laps. But a tight-handling condition in the center of the corners abetted a lack of forward bite off the corners, and it quicklymetastasized as the race wore on, dropping Stewart outside the top-20 after 100 laps.

Stewart ran amid the teens until a pit stop on lap 221, where he was dinged by NASCAR for being too fast upon entering pit road. Stewart had to serve the penalty on the following lap by driving down pit lane at the mandated 30-mph speed limit, relinquishing track position.

For the restart on lap 226, Stewart was 26th, the last car on the lead lap.

Stewart rose to 22nd by the time the next caution came out on lap 251, and in an effort to gain serious track position, crew chief Chad Johnston opted to keep Stewart on the racetrack. Johnston was not alone in this thinking, as Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for Matt Kenseth, employed the same strategy. When the race restarted on lap 258, Kenseth and Stewart lined up 1-2.

Unfortunately, their time at the front was short-lived. Both drivers dropped like rocks, as their slightly-worn tires proved no match for the new Goodyears worn by their competitors. Stewart briefly fell a lap down, but quickly earned it back by getting the “lucky dog” following a caution on lap 316. Kenseth was ready to go a lap down before being saved by the caution.

For the restart on lap 323, Stewart was 24th, the last car on the lead lap. He and Johnston continued to tweak on the No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet during the remaining four caution periods. They made small gains, allowing Stewart to climb to 17th when the checkered flag waved.

Enjoying a much better day was Stewart’s teammate Kurt Busch. The driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) won the STP 500 by .263 of a second over six-time Sprint Cup champion and eight-time Martinsville race winner Jimmie Johnson .

Busch started 22nd and led three times for 23 laps en route to his 25th career Sprint Cup victory and first since Oct. 2, 2011 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, a span of 83 starts. It was also his second Sprint Cup win at Martinsville, with his previous triumph coming in October 2002. Most importantly, the win punched Busch’s ticket for the 16-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Busch is the sixth different winner in the first six Sprint Cup races of the season, the most in the Chase era and the longest streak to start a season since 2003.

“Really happy for Kurt Busch and everyone on the Haas Automation team,” said Stewart, who as the co-owner of SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, gets to enjoy the organization’s 21st point-paying Sprint Cup win since its 2009 inception and second this season. “Kurt drove a great race and beat one of the best. And Daniel Knost (crew chief) – a great win for him. He’s in his first year as a crew chief and he’s obviously doing a really good job. We knew he was capable and he’s proving that. And this is a big win for Gene Haas. He had a big hand in putting this all together, and for him and Haas Automation to get a win this early in the season, I think it says a lot about his vision.

“You know, it wasn’t the day we wanted for our Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy by any means, but for the whole Stewart-Haas Racing organization, it still feels good to get a win.”

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished seventh. It was his 12th top-10 in 26 career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy/Get Found Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 32nd in only her third Sprint Cup start at Martinsville.

Finishing third in the STP 500 behind Busch and Johnson was Dale Earnhardt Jr., while Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top-five. Kenseth, Harvick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 14 caution periods for 92 laps, with two drivers failing to finish.

There was also a track-record 33 lead changes. The previous record was 31, set on April 3, 2011.

With round six of 36 complete, Stewart leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is 15th with 154 points, 73 behind first-place Earnhardt. Busch is 20th with 146 points, 81 out of first. Harvick is 25th with 135 points, 92 out of first. Patrick is 29th with 104 points, 123 out of first.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Duck Commander 500 on Sunday, April 6 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at 2:30 p.m.