Haas Automation Driver Finishes 30th in Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race

Date:  Aug. 31, 2016

Event:  Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (Round 23 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  27th/30th (Running, completed 471 of 500 laps)

Point Standing:  27th (400 points, 85 ahead of 31st)

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

After enduring a rain delay that turned the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race into a day race on Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart had to endure a broken wheel hub that left him 29 laps down and in 30th-place when the checkered flag dropped.

Stewart and the other drivers who made up the 40-car field were only able to complete 48 laps on Saturday night before rain forced NASCAR Sprint Cup Series officials to postpone the race to Sunday with a scheduled 1 p.m. EDT start. Rain continued, however, pushing the start to just past 4:30 p.m.

“I’m glad we got this in,” Stewart said. “I’m appreciative to the fans that stayed last night. I know it’s taxing on a lot of them, but we appreciate the fact that they stayed to watch.”

On a green racetrack washed clean by the heavy rain that inundated the .533-mile oval, Stewart restarted in 31st. He drove his No. 14 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) to 25th by lap 75 despite it being tight through the track’s high-banked corners.

During a scheduled pit stop on lap 86 while the race was under caution, Stewart got fuel and a left-rear wedge adjustment. He kept his tires, as they had less than 40 laps on them. The strategy was to gain track position, but with the No. 83 Toyota of Matt DiBenedetto pitted in front of the No. 14 team’s pit stall, Stewart found himself boxed in. He had to stop and put his car in reverse before he could exit his stall, all of which cost valuable time. Nonetheless, Stewart returned to the track a respectable 18th.

Despite Stewart’s tires being relatively new, they were no match for the fresh tires of his counterparts. As green-flag laps clicked off the board, Stewart dropped in the running order. After 100 laps he was 21st and after 150 laps he was 31st.

When the caution flag waved on lap 157, Stewart took the opportunity to pit for four fresh tires and fuel. But just past lap 200, Stewart detected a vibration that was worsening with each lap. By lap 230, the situation was untenable and Stewart was forced to make an unscheduled, four-tire stop. The culprit was a loose right-rear wheel.

But when racing resumed, the vibration continued, and it was worse than before. Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz called Stewart to the pits and it was quickly determined the right-rear wheel hub needed to be replaced. Behind the wall Stewart went, whereupon the Haas Automation crew went to work in changing the hub.

On lap 280 Stewart returned to the track, albeit 28 laps down and in 38th position. From there, Stewart soldiered through the race, looking to gain positions through the attrition of others. It worked, for between mechanical woes and crashes, Stewart was able to rise to 30th.

At the other end of the racing spectrum was Stewart’s SHR teammate Kevin Harvick, who drove his No. 4 Busch Beer Chevrolet SS to the win in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Harvick led four times for 128 laps  to score his 33rd career Sprint Cup win, his second of the season and his second in 32 career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol. It was the 33rd point-paying Sprint Cup victory for SHR since its inception in 2009 and the organization’s third this season. It was SHR’s first win at Bristol.

“I’m happy for these guys,” Stewart said. “This is a hard place to win at. There are so many things that can go wrong. All it takes is one thing. I mean, we had a wheel that was loose and that messed our whole day up. 

“Our Haas Automation Chevy was fun today, too. Unfortunately, the part of the race where we were running really hard wasn’t the part of the race that counted for us. We just had a good time and enjoyed it.”

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 22nd. Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 38th after an accident on lap 373 put him out of the race.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 1.933 seconds behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were nine caution periods for 106 laps, with four drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.

With round 23 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR and the series in the championship standings. He is first with 762 points, 27 ahead of second-place Brad Keselowski. Busch is third with 735 points, 70 behind Harvick. Patrick is 23rd with 432 points, 117 ahead of 31st-place David Ragan. Stewart is 27th with 400 points, 85 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. Three races remain before the Chase begins Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Pure Michigan 400 on Saturday, Aug. 28 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBCSN.