Untimely Caution Thwarts Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Driver in Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400

Date:  June 7, 2015

Event:  Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 (Round 14 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Pocono (Pa.) Raceway (2.5-mile triangle)

Start/Finish:  28th/21st (Running, completed 160 of 160 laps)

Point Standing: 27th (253 points, 306 out of first)

Winner:  Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing (Chevrolet) 

Looks can be deceiving, and that certainly was the case for Tony Stewart in the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

A 21st-place finish masked the actual performance of Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). He raced as high as fourth, but an ill-timed caution thwarted his effort.

“I put us in a hole to start the weekend,” said Stewart, referring to his crash on Friday in practice that forced him to a backup racecar. “This whole Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops team dug in, worked hard all weekend and never gave up. I’m really proud of everybody and hate the finish doesn’t reflect that effort.”

Stewart started the 160-lap event around the 2.5-mile triangle in 28th place and picked up six positions by the time the field came around to complete lap two. The three-time Sprint Cup champion ran steady, consistent laps, cracking the top-20 by lap 30 and the top-15 by lap 60. During the race’s early laps, Stewart noted that the car handled pretty well at all points on the track, but was just a little tight in the center of turn three. The tight condition would persist through to the checkered flag.

With fuel mileage historically a factor at Pocono, a number of teams exercised road-course race strategy – working backward from lap 160 to determine their trips to pit road for service and, more importantly, fuel. The strategies varied, and the No. 14 team got in on the action during the third caution on lap 88. Crew chief Chad Johnston called for Stewart to stay out while a number of the frontrunners came to pit road for service. The goal was to take advantage of clean air and then hope for a caution that would position Stewart in the top-10. The strategy was working until an untimely caution for an accident involving Sam Hornish Jr. spoiled the effort.

Having made a green-flag stop for fuel, Stewart found himself a lap down in 27th place when the caution was displayed on lap 122. Just a few laps later and the rest of the field would have also made green-flag stops, allowing Stewart to cycle back to the lead lap and the top-10. Although he was a lap down when the yellow caution flag was displayed, Stewart was the first car in that position, which gave him the free pass to rejoin the lead-lap cars. After a trip to pit road for four tires, fuel and another chassis adjustment, Stewart restarted in 27th place.

Green-flag racing resumed on lap 125 but would be stopped for cautions three more times, making it hard to get into a pace that would allow Stewart to make up lost ground. The final restart took place with just 16 laps remaining, and Stewart made the most of the green-flag laps to move to 21st for the finish.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, led the stable of SHR drivers by finishing second. He led three times for 39 laps to bring his laps-led total this season to a series-best 1,162. This mark eclipses Harvick’s laps-led total for every one of his Sprint Cup seasons with the exception of last year when he led 2,137 laps en route to the Sprint Cup championship. This was Harvick’s 10th top-two finish in the 14 races run this season and his seventh top-five in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, started from the pole and finished fifth to earn his 12th top-five in 28 career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 37th after a spin sent her into the wall in turn one. Her crew was able to repair the car, allowing her to finish the race.

Martin Truex Jr. won the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 to score his third career Sprint Cup victory, his first this season and his first at Pocono.

Harvick finished 1.346 seconds behind Truex, while Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Busch rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were eight caution periods for 31 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 160-lap race.

With round 14 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 559 points, 39 ahead of second-place Truex. Kurt Busch is 12th with 379 points, 180 out of first. Patrick is 20th with 328 points, 231 out of first. Stewart is 27th with 253 points, 306 out of first.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Michigan 400 on Sunday, June 14 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.