(WOMR file photo)
Date: Oct. 30, 2016
Event: Goody’s Fast Relief 500 (Round 33 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (.526-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 6th/26th (Running, completed 496 of 500 laps)
Point Standing: 14th with 2,156 points
Winner: Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet)
No. 14 Haas Automation Chevrolet driver Tony Stewart finished 26th Sunday in his 34th and final NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. It was a long day for the three-time champion, who struggled with his car’s handling in the tight corners of the .526-mile, paperclip-shaped track.
“We just couldn’t get our car to turn today,” said Stewart, who missed the April race in Martinsville as he recovered from injuries suffered in an offseason accident.
The No. 14 team had high hopes going into Sunday after successful Friday and Saturday qualifying and practice sessions. Stewart led the first round of qualifying on Friday before ending up sixth in the third and final round. His long-run lap times in Saturday’s two practice sessions were also impressive.
Stewart started quickly Sunday, moving to fourth by the lap-25 caution. He passed Jimmie Johnson on the restart to take second place on lap 30, but new tires proved quicker, and Stewart slid back to seventh by the lap-40 mark. He fell to 17th by the time the race restarted on lap 60 after a debris caution. Some front-end damage the No. 14 earned racing in the tight Martinsville turns didn’t help the car’s handling, and Stewart dropped to 23rd – and nearly dropped off the lead lap – before a caution flag on lap 132. After pitting twice under caution to make repairs, Stewart raced in 27th at the back of the lead-lap cars.
Stewart raced in 25th as the last car on the lead lap when the caution flew on lap 200. The No. 14 crew made more front-end adjustments during the pit stop, attempting to get Stewart’s car to turn better for him in the corners. There wasn’t much change as Stewart fell off the lead lap at the halfway mark while racing in 24th. A long green-flag run forced Stewart to pit lane for fuel on lap 350 only to see a caution few laps later, dropping Stewart to 31st.
The race restarted after the lap-356 caution and ran green for the remainder of the event. Stewart finished the race four laps behind the leaders in 26th place.
Stewart walked out of Martinsville for the final time as a Sprint Cup driver with three wins, 10 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, and 1,234 laps led in 34 starts. Stewart, whose 18-year career concludes at season’s end, has earned 49 victories, 187 top-fives and 308 top-10 finishes in his 615 Sprint Cup Series starts.
Martinsville also was the final race Stewart would start with Jeff Gordon, whose substitution role for Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended on Sunday. The pair has combined for 1,420 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, 142 wins, 96 poles, 37,751 laps led and seven championships, not to mention countless open-wheel victories and titles, as well as success in other NASCAR series.
Despite Sunday’s frustration, Stewart has enjoyed a successful final Sprint Cup season. After missing the first eight races because of an offseason injury, Stewart has posted five top-five finishes and eight top-10s in 25 races, including a June victory at Sonoma (Calif.) International Raceway.
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Chevrolet SS, led the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) contingent Sunday by finishing 20th in the race.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 State Water Heaters Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 22nd.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 24th.
Jimmie Johnson won the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 to score his 79th career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his ninth at Martinsville.
Brad Keselowski finished 1.291 seconds behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 54 laps, with two drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race around the .526-mile oval.
Harvick and Kurt Busch are representing SHR in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and after Martinsville – the seventh race of the 10-race Chase – they rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Round of 8. Harvick leaves Martinsville 16 points behind fourth-place Kyle Busch. Kurt Busch is seventh, 18 points out of the top-four. Following the ninth race of the Chase Nov. 13 at Phoenix International Raceway, only the top four drivers will advance to the final, winner-take-all Championship 4 on Nov. 20 in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
With two races remaining in the Round of 8, the top-eight drivers competing for the title rank as follows:
1. Jimmie Johnson (4,044 points) 1 win
2. Denny Hamlin (4,039 points) +6 points
3. Matt Kenseth (4,039 points) +6 points
4. Kyle Busch (4,037 points) +4 points
5. Joey Logano (4,033 points) – 4 points
6. Kevin Harvick (4,021 points) – 16 points
7. Kurt Busch (4,019 points) – 18 points
8. Carl Edwards (4,005 points) – 32 points
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Nov. 6 AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The race starts at 2 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by NBC.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!