Mobil 1 Team Needed Caution To Aid Bid for Free Pass in Second Half of Race

Date: Aug. 28, 2016

Event: Pure Michigan 400 (Round 24 of 36)

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location: Michigan International Speedway (2-mile oval)

Start/Finish: 15th/21st (Running, completed 198 of 200 laps)

Point Standing: 26th (420 points, 93 ahead of 31st)

Winner: Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing (Chevrolet) 

No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet driver Tony Stewart finished 21st in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The race marked the 34th and final Michigan Sprint Cup start for Stewart, who is retiring from NASCAR competition at the end of the 2016 season.

After finishing seventh at Michigan in June, the three-time champion hoped for a better result. But the team struggled with handling issues the first half of the race and fell off the lead lap at the halfway mark. The No. 14 team tried a different tire strategy in the last half of the race, but  the caution flag didn’t fly when needed, so Stewart never returned to the lead lap.

“Everyone fought hard today,” Stewart said after the race.

Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz said the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team needed to focus on the next two races before the start of NASCAR’s 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“We just have to go to work,” Bugarewicz told the crew after the race.

Stewart started Sunday’s race on the 2-mile oval in 15th and held his own until a lap-20 competition caution saw the field visit pit lane for the first time. The team put four new tires on the No. 14 while most of the leaders opted for two tires. Stewart dropped to 18th but quickly regained the lost spots, racing in 15th by the lap-50 mark.

Stewart began reporting handling issues as he dropped to 20th.

“We are getting crushed on entry,” reported Stewart, who started his 606th career race on Sunday.

The No. 14 crew made changes the next green-flag stop to improve the handling. With only one caution and the leaders setting a fast pace, Stewart fell off the lead lap just past the halfway mark at lap 104. Stewart and most of the field pitted under green a few laps later with only a handful of cars remaining on the lead lap.

A caution on lap 118 bunched the field, but Stewart was the second car in line for the free pass and could not return to the lead lap. Stewart stayed on the track and moved into the free-pass position, restarting the race in 20th. When the green flag dropped, Stewart couldn’t hold on to his position and dropped to 23rd.

A green-flag stop on lap 156 dropped Stewart two laps behind the leaders, ending his chances of returning to the lead lap and earning a good finish.

Stewart finishes his Michigan career with a win, 12 top-five finishes, 21 top-10s and 225 laps led in his 34 career Sprint Cup starts.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, led the four-car SHR contingent Sunday. It was Harvick’s 11th top-five this season and his 10th top-five in 32 career Sprint Cup starts at Michigan.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 12th.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 23rd.

Kyle Larson won the Pure Michigan 400 to score his first career Sprint Cup victory.

Chase Elliott finished 1.478 seconds behind Larson in the runner-up spot. Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Harvick rounded out the top-five. Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were four caution periods for 17 laps, with one driver failing to finish the 200-lap race.

With round 24 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR and the series in the championship standings. He is first with 799 points, 25 ahead of second-place Keselowski. Busch is fourth with 721 points, 78 behind Harvick. Patrick is 24th with 450 points, 123 ahead of 31st-place David Ragan. Stewart is 26th with 420 points, 93 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. Two races remain before the Chase begins Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the 67th running of the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The second-to-last race before the Chase starts at 6 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 4, with live coverage provided by NBC.