Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Driver Attempts Two-Stop Strategy 

Date:  June 28, 2015

Event:  Save Mart 350k (Round 16 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway (10-turn, 1.99-mile road course)

Start/Finish:  7th/12th (Running, completed 110 of 110 laps)

Point Standing:  26th (301 points, 129 away from 16th-place)

Winner:  Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) 

Tony Stewart showed strength Sunday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, wheeling his No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS from his seventh-place starting spot to as high as second in the Save Mart 350k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race before ultimately finishing 12th. 

Stewart and crew chief Chad Johnston went into the 110-lap race around the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course with a deliberate, two-stop strategy which nearly delivered a top-five finish.

The strategy, however, forced Stewart to tackle the undulating layout in California wine country with old tires while conserving fuel anytime the caution flag waved.

Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion with 48 career victories, was up to the task. When the strategy put him in second place for a lap-27 restart, Stewart held steady among the top-five despite those behind him routing their way to the front with the benefit of fresher tires. 

When Stewart made his first scheduled pit stop during a caution period on lap 30, it dropped him to 32nd when the race restarted since so many other drivers were on a three-stop strategy and pitted earlier. 

Even with numerous cars in front of him, Stewart kept his composure and kept to the plan Johnston had orchestrated. By the halfway mark, Stewart was up to sixth.

His second and what should’ve been final stop came under green on lap 68. Four tires, fuel and a left-rear wedge adjustment was all Stewart needed to return to the track. 

As pit stops cycled through, Stewart and Johnston’s two-stop strategy looked good. With 25 laps remaining, Stewart was fifth. And thanks to a caution between laps 80-84, he had enough fuel to outlast many of the drivers around him.

But when the caution flag waved on lap 100 for Casey Mears’ broken axle, everyone’s strategies went out the window. 

If Stewart stayed out, he would be a sitting duck, as his old tires would be no match for the fresh rubber of his counterparts.

The decision to pit was made. The stop, unfortunately, was a tick slow, and it came at the most inopportune time. With only seven laps of green-flag racing remaining, Stewart restarted 16th. Nonetheless, he used those seven laps to get all the positions he could, rallying his way to 12th when the checkered flag dropped.  

Enjoying another strong run with a better result was teammate Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). Busch finished .532 of a second behind race winner Kyle Busch, marking the first time the brothers have finished 1-2 in a Sprint Cup race. The runner-up effort was Kurt Busch’s sixth top-five this season and his seventh top-five in 15 career Sprint Cup starts at Sonoma.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Folds of Honor/Outback Steakhouse/Budweiser Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished fourth to earn his 11th top-five this season and his fourth top-five in 15 career Sprint Cup starts at Sonoma.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 24th.

Kyle Busch’s win in the Save Mart 350k was his 30th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the year and his second at Sonoma.

Clint Bowyer, Harvick and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five while Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were five caution periods for 21 laps, with six drivers failing to finish.

With round 16 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 616 points, 53 ahead of second-place Martin Truex Jr. Kurt Busch is 10th with 469 points. Patrick is 19th with 377 points. Stewart is 26th with 301 points, 129 away from 16th-place, the cutoff spot to earn a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup on points alone.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola on Sunday, July 5 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The race starts at 7:45 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC.