No. 14 Mobil 1 Driver Makes Final Start in Arizona Desert
Date: Nov. 13, 2016
Event: Can-Am 500k (Round 35 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Phoenix International Raceway (1-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 25th/15th (Running, completed 324 of 324 laps)
Point Standing: 15th with 2,192 points
Winner: Joey Logano of Team Penske in Overtime (Ford)
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 15th Sunday in his 28th and final NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’m really going to miss this place,” Stewart said about the Arizona mile oval where he raced in open wheel, IndyCar and NASCAR races during his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career.
Stewart started 25th on Sunday, and it didn’t take long for the excitement to begin: Kyle Larson spun in turn three on the opening lap, and as the 40-car field attempted to avoid the sliding Larson, Stewart made contact with another car. The damage forced the No. 14 to pit lane, where the crew made minor repairs and returned him to the race in 39th place.
“That isn’t the way we wanted to begin today,” Stewart said over the team radio.
The three-time champion didn’t stay at the back of the pack for long, climbing to 22nd by the lap-80 mark despite an overheating engine due to the early damage. While on the wrong end of racing luck on the first lap Sunday, Stewart’s fortune changed as he battled to stay on the lead lap.
Seconds after leader Alex Bowman lapped Stewart on lap 81, Larson and Ryan Newman made contact coming to pit lane. Stewart earned the free pass when the caution came out and, since most of the field had already pitted before the caution, restarted the race in ninth. Stewart drifted back to 19th by the third caution of the race on lap 131.
“I’m not setting the world on fire, but this is the best the balance has been,” Stewart said at lap 167. The crew said his lap times were seventh fastest at the time.
Even the fast times weren’t enough to hold off the leaders who had caught Stewart by lap 212. But once again, fortune smiled when a caution gave Stewart his second free pass of the race, and he restarted in 18th with a little less than 100 laps remaining.
Stewart kept his position as the laps wound down and came for tires and fuel when the race went into overtime after leaders Bowman and Matt Kenseth wrecked and brought out the caution. In the three-lap shootout Stewart climbed to 15th before the checkered flag flew.
Sunday marked Stewart’s final run at Phoenix, where he has had a victory, eight top-fives and 12 top-10 finishes while leading 551 laps. Stewart has only next week’s season finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway left in his stellar 18-year Sprint Cup career.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, led the four-car SHR contingent Sunday. It was his 16th top-five this season and his 13th top-five in 28 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1-mile oval.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished fifth. It was his ninth top-five this season and his seventh top-five in 28 career Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 29th.
Joey Logano won the Can-Am 500k to score his 17th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his first at Phoenix.
Kyle Busch finished .587 of a second behind Logano in the runner-up spot while Kyle Larson, Harvick and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five. Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 53 laps. Two drivers failed to finish the 324-lap race, which went into overtime and finished 12 laps beyond its scheduled distance.
Harvick and Busch came into Phoenix looking to secure a spot in the Championship 4 next Sunday in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Phoenix served as an elimination race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and both drivers had advanced from the Round of 16 to the Round of 8 in the eight races leading into the penultimate race at Phoenix. In order to move on to the Championship 4, Harvick and Busch were each in must-win scenarios. Alas, Harvick fell 20 points short of breaking into the top-four while Busch ended up 37 points out of the top-four. Matt Kenseth and Hamlin were the two other Chase drivers who also failed to advance.
Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Logano and Kyle Busch were the drivers advancing to the Championship 4. All had their respective point tallies reset to 5,000.
The Sprint Cup season finale takes place Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race begins at 2:30 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by NBC.