Caps Memorable Weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway  

Date: July 24, 2016

Event: 23rd Annual Brickyard 400 (Round 20 of 36)

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile oval)

Start/Finish: 3rd/11th (Running, completed 170 of 170 laps)

Point Standing: 27th (317 points, 80 ahead of 31st)

Winner: Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) in overtime

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Chevy Summer Sell Down Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), hoped for better than an 11th-place finish Sunday afternoon in his 18th and final Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But as dusk set, Stewart walked out of the racetrack he’s revered since childhood smiling like he’d won the race. 

The three-day race weekend in his home state of Indiana was a celebration of the Columbus native’s career, capped by a post-race lap around the 2.5-mile track driving side-by-side with Jeff Gordon.

“I can say that just ranks in the top-three coolest moments of my 18 years in this series,” Stewart said after the race. “To share that moment with Jeff here at Indianapolis – I don’t know, I don’t even have the words for it. That is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

It was a weekend full of those types of moments.

On Friday, IMS President Doug Boles presented Stewart with part of the track’s old fencing he had climbed during his 2007 post-victory celebration. On Sunday Gordon took to the podium at the prerace drivers meeting to say “Thank you” to Stewart for what he’s done in the sport. The drivers gave Stewart a standing ovation, and then NASCAR placed the No. 14 at the head of the grid during prerace ceremonies so that Stewart could lead the 40-car field on a pace lap before moving to his third-place starting spot to begin the event.

Stewart earned the loudest cheers from fans in driver introductions, and as he circled the track in the back of a pickup truck, fans stood and applauded the future hall of famer. Stewart fought hard all weekend to keep focused on the 400 miles he needed to run on Sunday.

“I wish I could say I am reminiscing now and thinking about all the good times, but honestly right now I’m focused on winning this race,” the two-time Brickyard winner told a national television audience on the pace lap. “We have a great car today, and I want to go out and do the best I can. I think we have a great shot at it today.”

In the early going it looked like Stewart might have more than just a shot. He dropped to fourth in the first two turns, then rocketed to second by the end of the long backstretch. Unfortunately, neither Stewart nor any of the other drivers could combat the speed of leader and eventual winner Kyle Busch. Stewart, like many other drivers, reported his car wouldn’t turn in the track’s four corners, and he began slipping back.

The No. 14 SHR crew made adjustments throughout the race but couldn’t find the cure. Stewart remained in the top-10 and appeared destined to finish there when he pitted under green with 38 laps remaining. As the crew serviced Stewart’s Chevrolet, a caution flew for an accident on the backstretch. Stewart incurred a speeding penalty as he raced out of the pits. The caution and penalty dropped Stewart to 30th, a lap behind the leaders.

“I really did the team wrong here,” Stewart said. “I got a penalty on the last stop, and that is a green-flag stop that turned into a yellow and got us a lap down.”

Stewart rebounded strong and climbed through the field, eventually earning the free pass with 10 laps remaining. He restarted the race in 19th with seven laps to go. Four cautions in the race’s final laps saw Stewart dodge two major accidents with only cosmetic damage and survive some wild racing to finish 11th.

Stewart ends his career at IMS with one pole, two wins, three top-three finishes, seven top-fives and 11 top-10s, and he has led a total of 227 laps in 18 career Sprint Cup starts at Indianapolis. His open-wheel career at Indy is impressive, as well. In five Indy 500s, he earned three top-fives and only finished outside the top-seven once. He led four of the five races for 122 of 1,000 laps.

“We fought and got our lap back and ended up 11th,” Stewart said. “So, fought back and got something respectable out of this. Didn’t leave anything out there. It was an awesome weekend. Everything went the way we wanted it to; just came up short today. I had fun all day and had fun all weekend. I can’t thank everyone at Chevrolet and Mobil 1 and IMS enough, everybody that was with us this weekend.”

As he climbed from the No. 14, with fans cheering and swarms of media gathered around, Stewart broke away from the crowd and met Gordon for a hug, ending an era at the Brickyard and in racing.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, led the four-car SHR contingent Sunday by finishing sixth. It was Harvick’s 16th top-10 this season and his 10th top-10 in 16 career Sprint Cup starts at Indianapolis.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 16th. Last-lap contact with the No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon while vying for 10th place forced Busch out of the groove, allowing others to pass him for position.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 22nd after getting collected in a multicar accident with only seven laps remaining.

Kyle Busch won the Brickyard 400 in dominating fashion by leading three times for a race-high 149 laps. Busch survived four late-race restarts that pushed the event into overtime to collect his 38th career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his second straight at Indianapolis. Busch’s margin of victory over second-place Matt Kenseth was 2.126 seconds. Finishing third was Jimmie Johnson, while Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five. Harvick, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Dillon and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were eight caution periods for 34 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 170-lap race around the 2.5-mile oval, which went 10 laps past its scheduled 160-lap distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.

With round 20 of 36 complete, Harvick continues to lead SHR and the series in the championship standings. He remains first with 671 points, 24 ahead of second-place Brad Keselowski. Kurt Busch is third with 627 points, 44 behind Harvick. Patrick is 24th with 373 points, 136 ahead of 31st-place Chris Buescher. Stewart is 27th with 317 points, 80 ahead of 31st.

Harvick, Busch and Stewart are all eligible to compete in the 16-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which begins after the Sept. 10 race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. All have won a race this season and are among the top-30 in points, the two requirements necessary to secure a spot in the Chase. Patrick can also earn a Chase berth by winning a race and staying inside the top-30. Six races remain before the Chase begins Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Pennsylvania 400 on Sunday, July 31 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The race begins at 1:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBCSN.