After qualifying a season-best sixth and running strong in the practice sessions leading up to Monday’srain-postponed Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Tony Stewart was poised for a strong finish. Unfortunately, an accident derailed those chances, leaving Stewart a disappointing 34th.
Stewart was a stalwart among the top-10, but following a lap-93 restart, cars stacked up through turn one of the 2.5-mile triangle. As the field exited the corner, the jockeying intensified. Stewart got loose and tangled with his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Danica Patrick, slapping the outside SAFER Barrier.
As Stewart’s No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS was towed back to the garage area, the three-time Sprint Cup champion was evaluated and released from the infield care center.
Stewart then stood by while crew members went to work on his battered machine. In a very short amount of time, a lot of repair work was completed. With 39 laps remaining in the 160-lap race, Stewart returned to the track in 38th position.
Through the attrition of others and the tenaciousness of Stewart and the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats team, Stewart picked up four spots to finish 34th.
Enjoying a much better result was SHR teammate Kurt Busch. The driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS led the final 32 laps to earn his 28th career Sprint victory, his third at Pocono and his first of the season. The victory put Busch in a tie with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rex White for 25th on the all-time series win list, and it secured Busch’s spot in the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished ninth. It was his 11th top-10 this season and his 12th top-10 in 31 career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery/FOX Sports GO Chevrolet SS, finished 32nd.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 1.126 seconds behind Busch, while Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Harvick and Ryan Blaney comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 40 laps, with five drivers failing to finish.
With round 14 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR and the series in the championship standings. He is first with 490 points, 25 ahead of teammate Busch. This marks the second straight week SHR drivers have been 1-2 in the championship standings.
Patrick is 26th with 245 points, 65 ahead of 31st-place Regan Smith. Stewart is 36th with 118 points, 71 out of the top-30. If Patrick or Stewart win a race and finish among the top-30 in points following the 26th race of the season Sept. 10 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, each will earn a Chase berth. Harvick earned a Chase spot via his win March 13 at Phoenix International Raceway and Busch secured his position with the win at Pocono.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the FireKeepers Casino 400 on Sunday, June 12 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Coverage by FS1 begins with NASCAR RaceDay at 11:30 a.m. EDT and the race broadcast begins at 1 p.m.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!