Rush Truck Centers Driver Finishes 33rd at Kentucky


Date:  July 11, 2015

Event:  Kentucky 400 (Round 18 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Kentucky Speedway in Sparta (1.5-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  22nd/33rd (Running, completed 265 of 267 laps)

Point Standing: 28th (342 points, 131 out of 16th)

Winner:  Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) 

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 33rd in the Kentucky 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. A tight-handling racecar that would not turn in the corners proved to be more than the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion could overcome.

The Kentucky 400 served as the debut for an updated rules package which reduced aerodynamic downforce. However, a planned open test session on Wednesday was scuttled by rain and postponed to Thursday only for rain to cancel it again. That left teams with just a pair of practice sessions on Friday to acclimate themselves to the new package, which consisted of a 3.5-inch rear spoiler, a 25-inch radiator pan and a splitter overhang 1.75 inches less than before.        

But unable to secure a chassis setup that negated the lack of rotation through the track’s corners, the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers team elected to make wholesale changes to its Chevy SS prior to the start of Saturday night’s 267-lap race. It was a game plan that looked promising during the opening laps. 

After starting 23rd, Stewart was in 20th place when the first caution waved on lap 20, a break the team used to pit for four tires and fuel while many of the frontrunners stayed out. 

When green-flag racing resumed on lap 23, Stewart powered his Rush Truck Centers Chevy from 28th place on the restart to 15th by the time the competition caution was displayed just seven laps later. It was also during this time Stewart first noted that while the handling of his racecar was shifting between loose and tight at various points in the corners, it was the car’s inability to rotate through the center of the turns that was the most challenging. 

Crew chief Chad Johnston attempted to resolve the issue through varied combinations of adjustments on successive pit stops, but it was to no avail as the issue persisted throughout the race. Further compounding the problem was an incident just past the race’s halfway point on lap 144 when Stewart brushed the outside retaining wall in turn two while trying to avoid the colliding cars of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jeb Burton. With only minor damage, the No. 14 team was able to repair the car’s fenders on pit road without going behind the wall or losing a lap to the leaders. 

While the damage was minimal, it was enough to further compromise the car’s handling, leaving Stewart in the unenviable position of limping to the race’s conclusion.

Leading the charge for SHR Saturday night at Kentucky was reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick. The driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS finished eighth to score his third top-10 in five career Sprint Cup starts at Kentucky and his 16th top-10 this season.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 10th to earn his third top-10 in five career Sprint Cup starts at Kentucky and his 10th top-10 this season.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 34th.

Kyle Busch won the Kentucky 400 to score his 31st career Sprint Cup victory, his second this season and his second at Kentucky.

Joey Logano finished 1.594 seconds behind Kyle Busch, while Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 11 caution periods for 49 laps, with three drivers failing to finish.

With round 18 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 692 points, 68 ahead of second-place Johnson. Kurt Busch is eighth with 542 points, 150 out of first. With two wins apiece, Harvick and Kurt Busch are locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Patrick is 22nd with 396 points, 77 out of 16th, the cutoff position to make the 16-driver Chase field on points. Stewart is 28th with 342 points, 131 out of 16th.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the New Hampshire 301 on Sunday, July 19 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. The race starts at 1:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC Sports Network.