Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Drivers Earns Seventh Top-15 of Season
Date: Sept. 27, 2015
Event: Sylvania 300 (Round 28 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon (1.058-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 27th /11th (Running, completed 300 of 300 laps)
Point Standing: 25th with 563 points
Winner: Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Tony Stewart overcame a poor starting position and flat tires to finish 11th in the Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
After starting 27th in the 43-car field, Stewart drove his No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) up to 16th. But contact during some hard racing among a gaggle of cars after a lap-53 restart pushed the left-side fenders in on the tires of Stewart’s No. 14 machine.
Smoke began emanating from beneath his racecar, and it was quickly diagnosed as a left-side tire rub. As Stewart wheeled his Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy at 135 mph around the 1.058-mile oval, the tires eventually succumbed to the friction.
The left-side tires went flat as Stewart entered turn one, and displaying the kind of driving that made him a three-time Sprint Cup champion, Stewart deftly kept his car off the wall. But the trip back to pit road was a long one, and with the front scraping along the pavement, subsequent trips to pit road were needed to repair the splitter and left-side skirts and fenders.
The pit crew worked quickly to keep Stewart on the lead lap. Nonetheless, when Stewart returned to the track and green-flag racing resumed on lap 65, he was mired in 38th place.
Undeterred, Stewart went to work regaining the lost track position. He rose to 27th by lap 85 and climbed to 26th just after lap 100. The leaders, meanwhile, were setting scorching times, and by lap 120, Stewart was in danger of going a lap down.
Thankfully, a timely caution came on lap 121 when Alex Bowman scrapped the turn three wall. This allowed Stewart to stay on the lead lap and get four fresh tires and fuel.
When the race went back to green, Stewart went back to picking off positions. He climbed to 16th before another caution came out on lap 193 for debris. There, crew chief Chad Johnston made a savvy call for right-side tires and fuel. This vaulted Stewart to sixth when the race restarted on lap 197.
While Stewart didn’t have the strongest car among the top-10, his tenacious driving allowed him to stay there until another caution on lap 239.
Johnston called Stewart to pit road for what would be his last stop of the day. Other drivers, however, stayed out on the track in an attempt to stretch their fuel mileage to the finish.
With differing pit strategies playing out, Stewart dropped to 16th when the race restarted for the final time on lap 243.
Stewart held steady in this position until the last 15 laps, whereupon drivers ahead of him began pitting for enough fuel to get them to the finish. As drivers pitted, Stewart moved up. And when other drivers began running out of fuel on the penultimate and final laps, Stewart was the benefactor, crossing the stripe in 11th.
“We worked hard for that finish,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we overcame a lot to get it. I’m proud of this team for everything they put into this weekend and this race.”
Some of the misfortune benefitting Stewart came via his SHR teammates.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for SHR, was in contention for a top-five result but ran out of fuel on the final lap and finished 19th.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 ditech Chevrolet SS for SHR, led six times for a race-high 216 laps and was leading before running out of fuel with three laps to go. He came to the pits for a splash of fuel to finish a lap down in 21st.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 40th after being involved in an accident that forced her out of the race 97 laps shy of its 300-lap distance. Patrick was unhurt, but her racecar was not. She was one of five drivers unable to finish the race.
Busch and Harvick are representing SHR in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and they entered the second race of the 10-race Chase fifth and 16th, respectively, among the 16 Chase drivers in the Challenger Round. Busch leaves New Hampshire in seventh, 26 points behind Chase leader Matt Kenseth. Harvick leaves New Hampshire in 15th, 65 points out of first. Following the third race of the Chase next Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, only those Chase drivers who have won a race or are among the top-12 in points will advance to the Contender Round.
Kenseth won the Sylvania 300 to score his 36th career Sprint Cup victory, his fifth of the season and his second at New Hampshire.
Denny Hamlin finished 8.941 seconds behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 41 laps.