Tough Season Continues for Three-Time Sprint Cup Champ

Date:  April 11, 2015

Event:  Duck Commander 500 (Round 7 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (1.5-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  11th/24th (Running, completed 334 of 334 laps)

Point Standing: 32nd (107 points, 199 out of first)

Winner:  Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet) 

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil Delvac 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 24th in the Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Stewart appeared poised for a solid run early in the 334-lap race around the 1.5-mile oval, working his way up to eighth from his 11th-place starting spot within the first 15 laps. A lack of forward drive was the only issue reported by the three-time Sprint Cup champion during the early stages of the race, and he was running lap times comparable to his nearest competitors.

The team used the first caution period on lap 31 as an opportunity to make a minor track bar adjustment to the No. 14 Chevy in an effort to give Stewart the grip he needed to get off the turns. But when green-flag racing resumed, Stewart quickly reported that the car would not handle during the first couple of laps, specifically saying he was “wrecking loose.” 

The car would finally settle into a more comfortable handling position as the run wore on, but the tight issue would show itself at various points in subsequent runs. During each restart, however, Stewart would lose a handful of positions – something that was hard to overcome with the long green-flag runs that enabled the field to spread out. It was a problem that persisted throughout the race.

In an effort to pick up track position, crew chief Chad Johnston gambled during a late caution period that saw the majority of the field come to pit road. With only a few laps on the tires, Johnston told Stewart to stay out, placing him seventh for the restart on lap 268. Stewart was able to hold his own for a couple of laps but was soon overcome by the fresher tires of his counterparts.

Stewart and Johnston continued to work on the car’s handling, making various adjustments from air pressure to track bar to wedge in an effort to cure what ailed the No. 14 machine. At times the handling seemed to come around, but nothing improved the car’s performance during the first two to three laps of a run, relegating the two-time Texas winner (fall 2006 and 2011) to a 24th-place result.

While tough times continued for the No. 14 team, the good times rolled yet again for SHR’s Kevin Harvick. Driving the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, Harvick started second and finished second, leading nine times for 96 laps to bring his laps-led total at Texas to 104. It was his fifth top-five in 25 career Sprint Cup starts at Texas, his fourth second-place finish of 2015 and his sixth top-five this season. Harvick has finished among the top-10 in 10 straight races dating back to last November at Texas.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 14th. Busch started on the pole and led twice for 45 laps to bring his laps-led total at Texas to 295. It was Busch’s 16th top-15 finish in 25 career Sprint Cup starts at the 1.5-mile oval and his fourth top-15 this season.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 TaxACT/GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 16th. It was her first top-20 finish in six Sprint Cup starts at Texas and her fourth top-20 this season.

Jimmie Johnson won the Duck Commander 500 to score his 72nd career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his series-best fifth at Texas.

Harvick finished 1.107 seconds behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five. Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr. and Carl Edwards comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were eight caution periods for 40 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 334-lap race.

With round seven of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 306 points, 26 ahead of second-place Logano. Patrick is 17th with 176 points, 130 out of first. Busch is 21st with 144 points, 162 out of first. Stewart is 32nd with 107 points, 199 out of first.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Food City 500 in support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up To Cancer on Sunday, April 19 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at 12:30 p.m.