Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Driver Makes Gains Despite Tough Day


Date:  Oct. 4, 2015

Event:  AAA 400 (Round 29 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Dover (Del.) International Speedway (1-mile, concrete oval)

Start/Finish:  25th / 26th (Running, completed 396 of 400 laps)

Point Standing:  25th with 581 points

Winner:  Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing (Chevrolet) 

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 26th in the AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.

“We pretty much battled the same thing we have all year with our Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy, but it feels like we’ve made gains,” said Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup winner at Dover (June 2000, September 2000 and June 2013). “We’d take off tight, but if I was able to move around a little in traffic then it got nicer, but we just couldn’t get the car where we needed it. I do feel like we learned some things, though.”

Since heavy rain forced NASCAR to cancel all track activity Friday, including qualifying, the starting lineup was set per the NASCAR rulebook. Cars were lined up based on owner points, which placed Stewart 25th for the start of the race.

Teams did get to practice during two different sessions on Saturday, but it was for a combined time of less than an hour due to persistent rain. While practice was limited, Stewart and the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops team found a few adjustments that had potential for freeing up the car’s handling in race conditions.

The opening laps of the AAA 400 were fairly routine for the No. 14 team as Stewart turned patient times around the 1-mile, concrete oval while racing toward the top-20. But as the laps continued, the tight-handling condition experienced in practice became more difficult to negotiate, preventing the three-time Sprint Cup champion from cracking the top-20.

A chassis adjustment during the first pit stop on lap 40 didn’t free the car’s handling enough, stalling any forward progress for Stewart. Compromising matters further for the No. 14 team was the torrid pace set by eventual race winner Kevin Harvick, who started lapping cars within the first 50 circuits. Stewart succumbed to the race pace when he went down a lap to the leaders on lap 99.

Despite the setback, the team continued to work on the car’s handling by making various chassis and air pressure adjustments. At times the changes worked to Stewart’s favor, but they weren’t quite enough to allow him to leverage the car’s horsepower.

While it was a challenging day for Stewart, it was the exact opposite for Harvick, his SHR teammate. Harvick dominated by leading seven times for a race-high 355 laps en route to his 31st career win, his third of the season and his first at Dover. The victory punched Harvick’s ticket to the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Harvick came into Dover needing to win to advance from the Challenger Round.

The victory was also the 30th point-paying Sprint Cup win for SHR since its inception in 2009 and the organization’s fifth this season. Harvick won earlier this year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, and SHR teammate Kurt Busch won at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 17th and also advanced to the Contender Round.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 21st.

Kyle Busch finished 2.639 seconds behind Harvick, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray and Aric Almirola rounded out the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson and Joey Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were eight caution periods for 43 laps, with three drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.

As the third race in the 10-race Chase, Dover served as the first elimination race. The original, 16-driver Chase field was whittled down to 12 following the AAA 400, with McMurray, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer failing to make the cut.

Joining Harvick and Busch in advancing from the Challenger Round to the Contender Round were Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Logano, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Earnhardt. All had their respective point tallies reset to 3,000. 

Three more races will be run with the next cutoff coming after the Oct. 25 race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, whereupon the Chase field shrinks to eight for the Eliminator Round. Another three races will be run after that, where after the Nov. 15 race at Phoenix, only four drivers will advance to the final, winner-take-all Championship Round Nov. 22 in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Bank of America 500 on Oct. 10 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The race begins at 7 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC.