Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Driver Leads Early, Scores 11th Top-20 of the Season


Date:  Sept. 6, 2015

Event:  Southern 500 (Round 25 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Darlington (S.C.) Raceway (1.366-mile egg-shaped oval)

Start/Finish:  17th/15th (Running, completed 367 of 367 laps)

Point Standing:  24th with 496 points, 157 out of 16th

Winner:  Carl Edwards of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) 

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 15th in the Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway for his 11th top-20 result in 2015. It was a vintage performance for Stewart, who led laps and raced in the top-10 for much of the 500-mile race before trouble on pit road proved to be too much to overcome.

“The Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy was solid for us tonight,” Stewart said. “I cost us some spots there with the speeding penalty, and then we were having problems on pit road . We just couldn’t put it all together to be able to stay up front.”

Driving a special throwback paint scheme commemorating the original Tracker Boat from Bass Pro Shops (the Bass Tracker), Stewart started 17th and flexed some muscle early, cracking the top-15 within the first few laps despite trying to negotiate a car that was handling on the tight side. Crew chief Chad Johnston took advantage of the first caution to make an air pressure adjustment aimed toward freeing the car’s handling. The change improved the No. 14 Chevy’s handling, and the three-time Sprint Cup Series champ at its wheel responded by patiently working his way through the field, breaking into the top-10 on lap 105 and the top-five on lap 133.

Stewart’s progress was impeded just past the halfway point, when on lap 189 he was caught speeding while entering pit road during the caution. The ensuing penalty forced Stewart to restart from the tail end of the field – a setback that would be negated mere laps later through a combination of savvy driving and a gutsy pit call.

During the 11th caution on lap 208, as Stewart was running in the 22nd position, Johnston made the call to leave the No. 14 on the track while the race leaders came to pit road for fresh tires – a crucial component for successfully negotiating the temperamental Darlington track. When green-flag racing resumed, Stewart dug deep and shot to the lead on lap 212. He maintained the top spot during the next 10 circuits around the egg-shaped track before surrendering the lead to driver Denny Hamlin on lap 222.

Stewart was still in the top-five on lap 229 when caution waved for the 12th time, allowing him to get back on the same pit sequence as the leaders.

As the race continued the strategies exercised by competitors up and down pit road started to vary as teams tried to find their way to the front of the field. While Stewart and company attempted to leverage the fortitude offered by fresh tires, trouble on pit road hampered those efforts. Stewart regularly found himself restarting on the outside of the top-10 and having to race his way back through the field. It was an issue that persisted through to the end of the race, and Stewart wound up with a 15th-place finish.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS, led the way for SHR on Sunday nightby finishing fifth. It was Harvick’s 18th top-five finish this season and his 10th top-five in 19 career starts at Darlington.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished sixth. It was Busch’s 14th top-10 this season and his sixth top-10 finish in 19 starts at Darlington.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 42nd after making contact with the outside retaining wall. It was Patrick’s third career start at Darlington.

Carl Edwards won the Southern 500 to score his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, his second this season and his first at Darlington.

Brad Keselowski finished .902 of a second behind Edwards, while Hamlin, Joey Logano and Harvick rounded out the top-five. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson comprised the remainder of the top-10. 

There were 18 caution periods for 89 laps with four drivers failing to finish the 367-lap race.

With round 25 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 948 points, 42 ahead of second-place Logano. Kurt Busch is ninth with 752 points, 196 out of first. With two wins apiece, Harvick and Busch are locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Patrick is 23rd with 527 points, 126 out of 16th, the cutoff position to make the 16-driver Chase field on points. Stewart is 24th with 496 points, 157 out of 16th.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Saturday, Sept. 12. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC Sports Network.