Stewart Finishes 30th in Folds of Honor 500

Date:  March 1, 2015

Event:  Folds of Honor 500 (Round 2 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  39th/30th (Running, completed 319 of 325 laps)

Point Standing:  35th (16 points, 72 out of first)

Winner:  Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet) 

Five hundred miles at Atlanta Motor Speedway takes a long time, and when you’re struggling with an ill-handling racecar, it takes even longer. Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race took three hours and 49 minutes to complete. For Tony Stewart, it felt like an eternity.

Stewart, the three-time Sprint Cup champion, finished 30th in the 325-lap race around the 1.54-mile oval. 

From the drop of the green flag, Stewart was already playing from behind. He started 39th in the 43-car field after NASCAR’s technical inspection process on Friday dragged on so long that 13 drivers, including Stewart, were never able to make a qualifying lap. Stewart took a provisional to make the race, and was joined by fellow champions Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson at the back of the field.

On a cold and raw raceday, Stewart was only able to climb to as high as 18th. His Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) was too tight on the exit of the corners, where Stewart described his racecar as “tripping on the right front”.

Despite numerous and, at times, major adjustments to the No. 14 machine, the car responded only moderately when dramatic change was needed. This included a pit stop on lap 183 where under caution, crew chief Chad Johnston ordered the hood to be raised so rounds of wedge could be taken out of the left-front and right-front corners. 

Stewart continued his wrestling match with the steering wheel and with about 50 laps to go, started gaining the upper hand. Unfortunately, Stewart was caught up in a multicar accident on lap 306 that significantly damaged the right side of the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy.

Johnston was able to repair the car during two trips to pit road so that Stewart could maintain his track position, but as soon as the race went back to green, smoke started emanating from underneath the racecar. Stewart was forced to bring the car back down pit road under green with only a handful of laps remaining. The car was patched up to make it to the finish, allowing the team to avoid a DNF (Did Not Finish).

At the polar opposite end of the racing spectrum was Stewart’s SHR teammate Kevin Harvick. 

Harvick, the reigning Sprint Cup champion and driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, continued his championship performance. After finishing second in the season-opening Daytona 500 last Sunday, Harvick finished second at Atlanta. In fact, in his last five races dating back to Texas Motor Speedway in November, Harvick has finished second, first, first, second and second. Harvick led six times for a race-high 116 laps in the Folds of Honor 500 to score his sixth top-five in 25 career Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta. 

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 16th. Regan Smith, interim driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished right behind Patrick in 17th. 

Johnson won the Folds of Honor 500 to score his 71st career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his fourth at Atlanta.

Harvick finished 1.802 seconds behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger, Brett Moffitt, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 10 caution periods for 54 laps, with six drivers failing to finish.

With round two of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is third with 86 points, two points behind first-place Logano. Patrick is 16th with 51 points, 37 out of first. Stewart is 35th with 16 points, 72 out of first. Smith didn’t accumulate any points because he is a fulltime driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Kobalt 400 on Sunday, March 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race starts at 3:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at 2:30 p.m.