No. 14 Coca-Cola Chevrolet Wins ‘Best Paint Scheme’ of Throwback Weekend

Date: Sept. 4, 2016

Event: Southern 500 (Round 25 of 36)

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location: Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile oval)

Start/Finish: 17th/35th (Running, completed 317 of 367 laps)

Point Standing: 27th (426 points)

Winner: Martin Truex Jr.of Furniture Row Racing (Toyota)

No. 14 Coca-Cola Chevrolet driver Tony Stewart raced in the top-10 during Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C) Raceway before late-race engine problems left him with a 35th-place finish in his final NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the historic oval. But all was not lost this weekend, as the Coca-Cola car won the vote for the best paint scheme during the sport’s annual “throwback weekend” to honor its heritage.

“Our car was awesome tonight, but it was overheating and it finally grenaded,” Stewart said. “It was 375 degrees on water temperature. There’s a screen in there that keeps all the trash from getting into the radiator, and it got separated from its mount, so all the trash was getting underneath it and going up inside the radiator, and it just kept blocking it until we finally lost the motor.”

Stewart started 17th and held his position in the early going as Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Kevin Harvick set a blistering pace, lapping more than half the field. Stewart battled a tight-handling car, but the first two green-flag pit stops brought improvement. Right after the second stop on lap 98, a debris caution came out to drop Stewart off the lead lap. The team took the wave-around, and Stewart rejoined the lead lap in 19th.

As the sun set and the track began to cool, Stewart began a move toward the front, breaking into the top-10 near the lap-150 mark. Contact with Brian Scott caused some right-front damage to the No. 14 near the 200-lap mark, but Stewart never fell far out of the top-10. That’s where it appeared Stewart would finish, but rising engine temperatures in the final third of the race doomed the No. 14’s chances, and Stewart pulled into the garage on lap 317 in a cloud of smoke.

Stewart’s Chevrolet carried a red-and-gold Coca-Cola paint scheme honoring the 1971 and 1972 racecars driven by Bobby Allison in back-to-back victories at Darlington – races Allison dominated from start to finish. The scheme included Coca-Cola’s tagline of that era, “The Real Thing.” The authentic look included the gold wheels and cubic-inch displacement boast on the hood.

Allison, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, spent much of Sunday with Stewart at Coca-Cola hospitality events, rode with him on the pre-race parade lap and sat on the No. 14’s pit box during the race. Before the race Allison signed autographs for the No. 14 pit crew, who sported red-and-white checkered Coca-Cola pants throughout the weekend.

“This weekend was a blast all the way around being with Bobby Allison and Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola really went all out in designing our car, plus Darlington and NASCAR did a great job with the whole weekend of racing,” said Stewart, who made his 24th start at “The Track Too Tough To Tame.”

NASCAR announced during driver introductions that the No. 14 Coca-Cola car won the best paint scheme among the 40 cars entered in the race. The top-five paint schemes ranked by a fan poll were then judged by a group of NASCAR Hall of Famers. A few drivers even raced paint schemes Stewart once drove.

“I think I passed myself and got passed by myself a few times tonight,” he laughed.

Stewart finishes his Darlington career with third-place finishes in the 2009 and 2012 Southern 500s, four top-five finishes and 12 top-10s, and he has led a total of 30 laps in his 24 Sprint Cup starts at Darlington. One of Stewart’s 11 career Xfinity Series victories came at Darlington on May 9, 2008. Darlington and the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta are the only tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit where Stewart did not win.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Chevrolet SS, led the four-car SHR contingent Sunday by finishing second. It was Harvick’s 12th top-five and 20th top-10 this season and his sixth top-five finish in 20 career Sprint Cup starts at Darlington. Harvick also led five times for a race-high 214 laps.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 24th.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 35th after being involved in an accident on lap 326.

Martin Truex Jr. won the Southern 500 by 0.606 of a second over Harvick to score his fifth career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Darlington.

Kyle Larson finished third, while Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 10 caution periods for 52 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 367-lap race around the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval.

With round 25 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR and the series in the championship standings. He is first with 840 points, 43 ahead of second-place Keselowski. Busch is sixth with 728 points, 112 behind Harvick. Patrick is 23rd with 467 points, 120 ahead of 31st place. Stewart is 27th with 426 points, 79 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. Just one race remains before the Chase begins Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond. The last race before the Chase starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, Sept. 10, with live coverage provided by NBCSN.