Pit Road Speeding Penalty Thwarts Strong Run for Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Driver


Date:  June 22, 2014

Event:  SaveMart 350k (Round 16 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway (10-turn, 1.99-mile road course)

Start/Finish:  21st/19th (Running, completed 110 of 110 laps)

Point Standing: 17th (427 points, 153 out of first)

Winner:  Carl Edwards of Roush-Fenway Racing (Ford)

After starting 21st and falling to 25th after lap one of the 110-lap SaveMart 350k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, Tony Stewart quickly regrouped. With the opening-lap jousting over as the field became more strung out, Stewart set his sights on expertly navigating the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course in California’s wine country.

Stewart wheeled his No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS to 14th just past the race’s halfway mark and continued to climb as the race neared its end. With less than 25 laps to go, Stewart was sixth, and thanks to a lap-72 pit stop, was one of only a few drivers who could make it to the finish without pitting.

But when the caution flag flew on lap 92, it proved to be a game changer. Fuel strategy was out the window, for anyone who couldn’t make it the rest of the way on fuel could now fill their tanks under the relative calm of the caution. On top of that, it allowed drivers to get fresh tires. 

Stewart had 20 laps of green-flag racing on his tires. And after the caution, there would be at least 16 more laps of green-flag racing. If Stewart stayed out, drivers behind him who opted to pit for four new tires would have a decided advantage in the closing laps. Any track position Stewart could possibly gain would be in jeopardy as soon the race restarted. Stewart’s old tires would be no match for the clean Goodyears of his competitors.

The decision to pit was an easy one. With four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel, Stewart returned to the race in 10th. And as a two-time Sprint Cup winner at Sonoma, a top-10 starting position for one last run to the checkered flag boded well for Stewart.

But that promise ended when NASCAR caught Stewart speeding on entry to pit road. The penalty was to restart at the tail-end of the lead lap, which jettisoned Stewart to 31st when racing resumed on lap 95.

The Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet was still strong, and Stewart made the most it, rallying to 19th when the checkered flag waved. 

Stewart’s teammates also endured up-and-down days at Sonoma, with Kurt Busch leading the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) contingent via a 12th-place finish in his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS after starting fifth. 

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, started 11th and finished 18th. It was Patrick’s 62nd career Sprint Cup start and only her second at Sonoma.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Folds of Honor/Outback Steakhouse/Budweiser Chevrolet SS for SHR, started sixth and led twice for 23 laps before getting caught up in an accident on lap 83, which relegated him to a 20th-place finish.

Carl Edwards won the SaveMart 350k to score his 23rd career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Sonoma.

Jeff Gordon finished .591 of a second behind Edwards in the runner-up spot, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer comprised the remainder of the top-10. 

There were six caution periods for 19 laps, with three drivers failing to finish. 

With round 16 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is ninth with 472 points, 108 behind series leader Gordon. Stewart is 17th with 427 points, 153 out of first. Busch is 26thwith 347 points, 233 out of first. Patrick is 28th with 299 points, 281 out of first.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Kentucky 400 on Saturday, June 28 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its prerace show at 6:30 p.m.