Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Driver Sees Race Unravel in Last 40 Laps
Date: July 26, 2015
Event: 22nd Annual Jeff Kyle Brickyard 400 (Round 20 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 4th/28th (Running, completed 164 of 164 laps in a green-white-checkered finish)
Point Standing: 26th (382 points, 137 out of 16th)
Winner: Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
The 22nd annual Jeff Kyle Brickyard 400 at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway started strong for native son Tony Stewart, and it stayed strong for much of the 164-lap race around the 2.5-mile oval. But after qualifying fourth on Saturday and running as high as second in the race on Sunday, a bid to stay out on race-worn tires with less than 40 laps remaining upended Stewart’s strategy and left him with a 28th-place finish.
It was a bitter outcome on what was shaping up to be a welcome homecoming for Stewart, who grew up 45 minutes away from the track in the towns of Columbus and Rushville, Indiana.
Stewart drove his No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS to the provisional pole in the first of two rounds of knockout qualifying on Saturday. His fast lap advanced him to the final round of qualifying, where he posted the fourth-quickest lap to place him on the outside of the second row for the Brickyard 400.
The race started well and Stewart held his own among the top-five despite his racecar being tight in the center of the track’s corners and loose off. Crew chief Chad Johnston continued to adjust the car’s handling, eventually finding a balance that made the car’s exit off the corners palatable.
When the race’s first caution flag waved on lap 46, Stewart took advantage and pitted for four tires and fuel. Others, however, either stayed out on the racetrack or pitted for only two tires. The differing strategies left Stewart 12th for the lap-50 restart.
Eventually, the drivers who chose to stay out were forced to pit, and those who took only two tires were soon overmatched by the grip of Stewart’s Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy which rode on four fresh Goodyears.
By lap 62, Stewart was running second behind his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Kevin Harvick, whose No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS wound up leading four times for a race-high 75 laps.
Stewart stayed second for nearly 20 laps before those who had pitted earlier began reeling him in thanks to their new tires. But Stewart remained strong, dropping only to sixth as lap 100 clicked off the board.
When the caution flag flew again on lap 108, Stewart hit pit road for four tires and fuel. Again, other drivers stayed out and others took only right-side tires. Nonetheless, Stewart was the first driver off pit road with four new tires, which placed him 15th for the lap-112 restart.
When the caution flag was displayed on lap 121, Stewart stayed out and leapfrogged to third place. He earned track position, but he would have to hold onto it with tires that had nine green-flag laps on them. Stewart knew it would be a challenge, but if he could hold his ground for just two or three laps and get out in clean air, his Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy could rattle off the kind of laps that put it on the provisional pole Saturday.
When the green flag dropped on lap 125, Stewart’s old tires proved to be no match for those around him on fresher rubber. He lost 10 spots on the first lap.
As another caution slowed the racing action on lap 142, Stewart acknowledged his strategy hadn’t worked the way he envisioned. The only call that could be made was made – pit for four tires and fuel.
That stop, however, left Stewart 25th as he was behind the drivers who stayed out and behind the drivers who pitted for only two tires. It proved to be a hurdle too tall to overcome.
By being near the tail-end of the lead lap cars, Stewart had nothing to lose when more cautions came out. Having already been beaten when he was on old tires, new tires would be the only way he would have a fighting chance of using the restarts to gain track position.
Unfortunately, not even that strategy worked, as the jockeying in the final 10 laps amid three restarts left Stewart 28th when the checkered flag dropped.
After vying for the win late in the race, Harvick wound up third. It was his fifth top-five in 15 career Sprint Cup starts at Indianapolis and his 14th top-five this season.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished eighth to earn his fifth top-10 in 15 career Sprint Cup starts at Indianapolis and his 12th top-10 this season.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 27th.
Kyle Busch won the Jeff Kyle Brickyard 400 to score his 33rd career Sprint Cup victory, his first at Indianapolis, his fourth this season and his third straight.
Joey Logano finished .332 of a second behind Kyle Busch, while Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 36 laps, with two drivers failing to finish the 164-lap race, which was extended beyond its scheduled 160-lap distance by a green-white-checkered finish.
With round 20 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 777 points, 69 ahead of second-place Logano. Kurt Busch is eighth with 612 points, 165 out of first. With two wins apiece, teammates Harvick and Busch are locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Patrick is 22nd with 433 points, 86 out of 16th, the cutoff position to make the 16-driver Chase field on points. Stewart is 26th with 382 points, 137 out of 16th.