Stewart Drives Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevy to 14th-Place Finish in Fontana


Date:  March 22, 2015

Event:  Auto Club 400 (Round 5 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (2-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  20th/14th (Running, completed 209 of 209 laps)

Point Standing:  32nd (62 points, 163 out of first)

Winner:  Brad Keselowski of Team Penske in a green-white-checkered finish (Ford) 

Tony Stewart drove his No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS to a solid 14th-place finish in the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The effort was Stewart’s best of the season, but it didn’t come easy.

A skirmish with the No. 78 Chevrolet of Martin Truex Jr., on lap 163 punched a hole in the nose of Stewart’s machine. Truex, unhappy with another competitor, drove across three lanes on the backstretch of the wide, 2-mile oval and in doing so, cut across the front end of Stewart’s Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevy. This damaged the rear of Truex’s bumper, but the impact to Stewart’s car was far greater. The hole drastically affected the car’s aerodynamics, and it couldn’t be fixed until a prolonged pit stop while under caution on lap 186. That dropped Stewart from 13th to 20th when the race restarted on lap 190.

“He (Truex) had a problem with somebody else and I’m the one who paid the price for it,” said Stewart, a two-time Sprint Cup winner at Fontana (2010 and 2012). “I got a hole knocked in the nose and it takes us out of contention to have a top-10 finish.” 

Stewart powered his way forward in the closing laps, surviving two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to claim 14th.

A savvy call by crew chief Chad Johnston to stay out when the penultimate caution flag waved on lap 200 bought Stewart some track position, advancing the three-time Sprint Cup champion from 17th to second for the first green-white-checkered restart on lap 203. But when the caution flag few for the final time because of debris on lap 204, Stewart’s worn-out tires were no match for the fresh tires of his competitors when the green flag dropped for the final, green-white-checkered shootout.

“We just had to do the opposite of what everybody else did,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t the best case scenario for us, but we had to take a chance.”

The 14th-place finish, while far from a victory, did allow Stewart and Co. to see a light at the end of the tunnel in what has been a difficult start to the season.

“We’re gaining on it a little chunk at a time,” Stewart said. “We didn’t need to get it all today, but this is a big gain for us.”

Stewart’s SHR teammate, Kevin Harvick, continued the form that earned him the 2014 Sprint Cup championship. The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS led three times for 34 laps before finishing second in the Auto Club 400. It was Harvick’s eighth straight finish of second or better, a streak that began at Texas Motor Speedway in November. The last driver to score eight consecutive top-two finishes was NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty in 1975. Petty holds the record with 11 straight top-two finishes.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, started from the pole and led six times for a race-high 65 laps before finishing third. It was Busch’s seventh top-five in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Fontana. It was also his second straight top-five of 2015.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 19th to nab her third top-20 finish in four career Sprint Cup starts at Fontana.

Brad Keselowski won the Auto Club 400 to score his 17th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Fontana.

Harvick finished .710 of a second behind Keselowski in the runner-up spot, while Busch, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Truex, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were seven caution periods for 31 laps. All 43 drivers completed the race, which was extended nine laps from its scheduled 200-lap distance by a green-white-checkered finish.

With round five of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 225 points, 28 ahead of second-place Logano. Patrick is 23rd with 111 points, 114 out of first. Busch is 28thwith 82 points, 143 out of first. Stewart is 32nd with 62 points, 163 out of first. 

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Martinsville 500 on Sunday, March 29 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX Sports 1 beginning with its prerace show at 12:30 p.m.