Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Driver Leads Twice for Six Laps 

Date:  May 3, 2015

Event:  Geico 500 (Round 10 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (2.66-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  6th/19th (Running, completed 188 of 188 laps)

Point Standing: 30th (174 points, 220 out of first)

Winner:  Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet) 

 Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 19th in the Geico 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Despite leading twice for six laps, Stewart couldn’t muster any support to secure a second drafting lane in the race’s final laps to earn a shot at contending for the win.

 “I really don’t know why no one would try to go with us there at the end,” said Stewart, who earned a Sprint Cup win at Talladega in October 2008. “It baffled me. Our Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevy was really good, and I think we could’ve made it interesting if we got back to the front, but there’s only so much you can do by yourself at these races.”

 Stewart was referring to restrictor-plate races, where horsepower-choking plates are placed on an engine’s intake manifold at Talladega and its sister track, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, in an effort to keep speeds below the 200 mph mark. The on-track effect is long lines of racecars nose-to-tail as the drivers inside those cars use the draft to propel themselves past other lines of cars. It’s the only way to race at Talladega and Daytona, and a driver can’t go it alone, for the speed of the draft is much faster than a single car’s speed.

 Rather than go into preservation mode by dropping to the back of the field to avoid any kind of multicar accident that drafting so often leads to, Stewart raced for the lead early and often. From the drop of the green flag Stewart charged to the front, stalking early race-leader Jeff Gordon before taking over the top spot on lap seven. He led the next five trips around the 2.66-mile oval before dropping back to second place.

 After the initial charge to the front, it was textbook Talladega as Stewart ebbed and flowed with the draft, sometimes running the high line and then the low line in an effort to find the fastest way around the track.

 As the laps continued to tick off the board, Stewart noted that his Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet was handling on the tight side, particularly at the exits of the track’s high-banked turns. As a means to free up the car’s handling, crew chief Chad Johnston called for wedge adjustments on two different pit stops while also alternating between changes of two and four tires. 

 It was just past the century mark on the lap counter that Stewart started negotiating the draft to get back to the front, reasserting himself in the top-five and leading again on lap 148.

 Green-flag pit stops started unfolding on lap 156, with approximately half the cars still running on the lead lap making stops. Just two laps later the engine let go on the No. 3 car driven by Austin Dillon to bring out the sixth and final caution of the day. The cars that had yet to pit, including the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet, had the luxury of doing so under caution. However, the drivers who had made green-flag pit stops prior to the caution did not need to pit again, and Stewart found himself in 19th place for the lap-163 restart.

 Stewart would spend the final 26 laps trying to find a way back to the front but, ultimately, he could never mount a charge that would put him in position to contend for the win. He was running in 11th place with 15 laps to go, leading a freight train of 12-plus cars, but the pack broke up and Stewart lost the momentum he had built. Despite the setback, Stewart made furious attempts to gain ground, but he could never get the drafting assistance he needed from the cars in his vicinity.

 Leading the way for SHR at Talladega was Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet SS. Harvick finished eighth in the Geico 500 to earn his ninth top-10 finish in the 10 races that have been run this season. It was also his 13th top-10 in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at Talladega.

 Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 12th. It marked the seventh-straight race Busch has finished among the top-15.

 Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 21st.

 Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Geico 500 to score his 24th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his sixth at Talladega.

 Jimmie Johnson finished .158 of a second behind Earnhardt to give Hendrick Motorsports a one-two finish. Third-place went to Paul Menard, while Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five. Sam Hornish Jr., Ryan Newman, Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Josh Wise comprised the remainder of the top-10.

 There were six caution periods for 23 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 188-lap race.

 With round 10 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 394 points, 40 ahead of second-place Truex. Busch is 15th with 255 points, 139 out of first. Patrick is 16th with 253 points, 141 out of first. Stewart is 30th with 174 points, 220 out of first.

 The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 on Saturday, May 9 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX Sports 1 beginning with its prerace show at 7 p.m.