Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Driver Finishes 14th in Coke Zero 400

Date:  July 5, 2015

Event:  Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (Round 17 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2.5-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  31st/14th (Running, completed 161 of 161 laps)

Point Standing: 25th (331 points, 325 out of first)

Winner:  Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a green-white-checkered finish (Chevrolet) 

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 14th in the rain-delayed Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

Persistent showers dampened the 2.5-mile superspeedway, pushing the race into the night by more than three hours. When the race finally did start at almost midnight, Stewart and Co. took a conservative approach to the annual Fourth of July contest.

To finish first in a restrictor-plate race one must first finish, which meant Stewart would hang at the back of the pack for the majority of the event in an attempt to better avoid the multicar crashes that plague the pack-style racing of Daytona.

From his 31st-place starting spot, Stewart aptly displayed the art of preservation early in the race. Relying on his dexterity and detailed guidance from spotter Bob Jeffrey, Stewart weaved his way through a pair of incidents – one of which took place on lap three – and emerged without a scrape.

The team continued to employ a survival mentality as the race wound down. With about 50 laps to go, Stewart started to flex the muscle of his Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevy, a glimpse of which was seen on Friday during final practice when it posted the fourth-quickest lap. Stewart cracked the top-10 for the first time on lap 110.

During the race’s seventh caution on lap 129, crew chief Chad Johnston called Stewart to pit road for fuel and fresh tires. While many of the leaders stayed out, gambling they would have enough fuel to go the distance, Stewart and Johnston were assured of making it to the finish even if multiple attempts at a green-white-checkered took place. Perhaps even more valuable were the four new Goodyear tires on the No. 14 machine, allowing Stewart plenty of grip for the race’s final laps. Proving this, Stewart raced from 22nd place and back into the top-10 in a mere 10 laps.

Another adage of restrictor-plate racing is that cautions breed cautions, and two more were displayed before the finale – the last of which came out on lap 156 when driver Sam Hornish Jr. spun on the backstretch, leading to a green-white-checkered finish. 

In sixth place with a car that handled better on the outside of the draft, Stewart looked to be in the proverbial catbird seat when green-flag racing resumed with only two laps to go. Rather than being able to leverage his track position, however, Stewart was shuffled back to 14th place, where he was running when the frontrunners started colliding as the field came to the checkered flag. 

The incident triggered a dramatic crash that caused Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevy to take flight, crashing into the protective fencing and connecting with several cars before coming to rest directly in front of pit road. Stewart suffered a good bit of damage to his own racecar, but was able to finish the race.

“I really thought we were going to have a shot there with our Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet,” said Stewart, a four-time winner of the Coke Zero 400 (2005, 2006, 2009 and 2012). “I don’t know what happened there at the end, but the No. 3 car literally went over the top of me. That was one of the crazier things I’ve been a part of. I’m glad Austin is OK, and I’m hoping the same for the fans that were injured.”

Five fans sustained minor injuries. All were treated and released by medical personnel. 

Also involved in the last-lap accident was Stewart’s SHR teammate Kevin Harvick. He finished fourth despite significant damage to the front of his No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS. It was Harvick’s 12th top-five this season and his eighth top-five in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at Daytona.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished fifth to earn his seventh top-five of 2015 and his 12th top-five in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at Daytona.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 35th after a late-race accident.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola to score his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, his second this season and his fourth at Daytona.

Jimmie Johnson finished .122 of a second behind Earnhardt in the runner-up spot, while Denny Hamlin, Harvick and Busch rounded out the top-five. Jeff Gordon, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Trevor Bayne and Clint Bowyer comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were nine caution periods for 43 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 161-lap race, which was extended beyond its scheduled 160-lap distance by the green-white-checkered finish.

With round 17 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 656 points, 63 ahead of second-place Earnhardt. Busch is eighth with 508 points, 148 out of first. Patrick is 20th with 386 points, 270 out of first. Stewart is 25th with 331 points, 325 out of first.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Kentucky 400 on Saturday, July 11 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC Sports Network.