Loose-Handling Racecar Thwarts Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Team 

Date:  Aug. 16, 2015

Event:  Pure Michigan 400 (Round 23 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn (2-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  5th/21st (Running, completed 199 of 200 laps)

Point Standing:  26th (441 points, 152 out of 16th)

Winner:  Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) 

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 21st in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. A loose-handling racecar and a rapid race pace undermined what had been an otherwise promising weekend for the three-time Sprint Cup champion.

“We started out just way too loose,” said Stewart, winner of the June 2000 Sprint Cup race at Michigan. “We made some changes to the Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy and were able to get the car pinned to the track, but we were already a lap down at that point. When we needed a caution, it just never fell our way.”

The 200-lap race around Michigan’s 2-mile oval marked the second showing for NASCAR’s high-drag aerodynamic package. It debuted three weeks ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – an event where Stewart displayed considerable speed. Picking up where he left off at Indy, Stewart scored his fourth straight top-five starting spot on Friday by qualifying fifth for the Pure Michigan 400, and he aimed to carry that momentum into Sunday afternoon.

A trio of early cautions at the start of the race enabled Stewart to hold his own despite having a loose-handling racecar. The team used the competition caution on lap 20 to make a pair of chassis adjustments aimed toward providing more grip. The condition persisted, as Stewart reported that the rear of his car would not stick to the track in the turns. A long, green-flag run exacerbated the situation for the No. 14 team as Stewart dropped to 26th and went a lap down to the leaders.

The opportunity to work on the car’s handling arrived during the first round of green-flag pit stops on lap 55 when the team made both chassis and air pressure adjustments, changed four tires and added fuel – a combination that finally created the rear grip Stewart craved. Handling improved, and Stewart was able to race his way to the front of the lap-down cars. He was in position to get his lap back should a caution occur, but a torrid race pace prevented any such opportunity, as the race leaders continued to lap cars quicker than the cautions fell.

Frustrations deepened for Stewart and the team on lap 135 when the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy broke loose at the exit of turn four while running in 21st place. Heady driving by Stewart kept the car from making contact with anything, but a trip to pit road for fresh Goodyear tires was warranted, dropping Stewart to 30th.

Despite the setback, Stewart continued to take advantage of a better-handling racecar, racing his way up to 21st when the checkered flag fell.

Leading the way for SHR at Michigan was Kevin Harvick. The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS finished second to earn his eighth top-five and 13th top-10 in 30 career Sprint Cup starts at Michigan.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 20th and Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 25th.

Matt Kenseth won the Pure Michigan 400 to score his 34th career Sprint Cup victory, his third this season and his third at Michigan. Harvick finished 1.77 seconds behind Kenseth, while Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.

With round 23 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 866 points, 48 ahead of second-place Logano. Busch is eighth with 683 points, 183 out of first. With two wins apiece, Harvick and Busch are locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Patrick is 21st with 508 points, 85 out of 16th, the cutoff position to make the 16-driver Chase field on points. Stewart is 26th with 441 points, 152 out of 16th.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Saturday, Aug. 22. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC Sports Network.