Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Driver Earns Fifth Top-10 of Season


Date:  June 1, 2014

Event:  FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks (Round 13 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Dover (Del.) International Speedway (1-mile, concrete oval)

Start/Finish:  20th/7th (Running, completed 400 of 400 laps)

Point Standing:  21st (336 points, 127 out of first)

Winner:  Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet)

Tony Stewart finished seventh in the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway to nab his fifth top-10 this season and his 17th top-10 in 30 career Sprint Cup starts at Dover.

Stewart came into the 400-lap race around the 1-mile, concrete oval as the defending winner, as he beat Juan Pablo Montoya by .788 of a second to score his 48th career Sprint Cup victory in last year’s race. That was also the most recent win for Stewart, and it came in his No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

With Stewart back in his black and yellow Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy for his return to Dover, hopes were high that a repeat performance was in the offing.

In the first practice session on Friday, Stewart ended up with the second-fastest time. He later qualified 20th, which was two spots better than where he qualified last year when he won. In Saturday’s two practice sessions, Stewart and crew chief Chad Johnston worked on making their No. 14 machine balanced through the track’s steep, 24-degree banked corners.

The hard work paid off, as Stewart quickly began picking off positions as soon as the green flag waved. He was up to 16th after just seven laps, and even after kissing the wall with the right-front corner of his Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevy, Stewart kept moving, cracking the top-15 after 15 laps.

Despite the forward progress, Stewart’s car was tight in the middle of the track’s corners and loose off. Johnston adjusted the car on each pit stop with steady success, as Stewart climbed to 12th by lap 100.

The handling condition persisted, however, and it was most noticeable on restarts. It took some laps before the car’s handling came in, leaving Stewart vulnerable.

A two-tire pit stop while under caution on lap 241 boosted Stewart to ninth for the lap-246 restart. From that point on, Stewart never left the top-10.

With 75 laps remaining, Stewart was up to fourth, and with a pass of four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon on lap 336, Stewart was third. The top-three was Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Stewart – winners of the past nine Sprint Cup championships, collectively.

Stewart, however, could not go the distance on fuel. He would have to pit before the race ended. Thankfully, a timely caution for debris came out on lap 362.

Stewart pitted for four fresh tires and fuel. He restarted fourth, as Clint Bowyer took only two tires to jump ahead of Johnson, Keselowski and Stewart.

The good news was that Stewart had plenty of fuel to finish the race and that he didn’t have to pit under green to get it. The bad news was that restarts bedeviled his car’s handling, and when the green flag dropped, Stewart lost fourth place to a surging Matt Kenseth.

But with 10 laps to go, Stewart was holding steady in fifth. Unfortunately, a final caution on lap 394 set up a four-lap dash to the finish.

Stewart stayed out, for he didn’t want to give up any track position, same for Johnson, Kenseth, Keselowski and Bowyer. But when the green flag waved for the final time, the No. 14 machine couldn’t get settled into the racetrack as quickly as its counterparts. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. slipped by Stewart, dropping Stewart to seventh when the checkered flag waved.

“We’re better, but we still have some work to do,” Stewart said.

The top-10 was Stewart’s first since he finished ninth at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway five races ago. It was also his 296th top-10 in 534 career Sprint Cup starts.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS for SHR, started 20th and finished 17th. He led twice for 24 laps before a flat tire derailed his race. 

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, started 24th and finished 18th.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, started 28th and finished 23rd.

Jimmie Johnson won the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks to score his 68th career Sprint Cup victory. It was his second straight win and his ninth at Dover, the most of any NASCAR driver, past or present. 

Brad Keselowski finished .885 of a second behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Kenseth, Bowyer and Hamlin rounded out the top-five. Truex, Stewart, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menardcomprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were eight caution periods for 41 laps, with six drivers failing to finish.

With round 13 of 36 complete, Harvick leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is 12th with 373 points, 90 behind new series leader Kenseth. Stewart is 21st with 336 points, 127 out of first. Busch is 27th with 241 points, 222 out of first. Patrick is 28th with 239 points, 224 out of first.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Pocono 400 on Sunday, June 8 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its prerace show at noon.