Nature’s Bakery/Mobil 1 Driver Eliminated From Chase Contention

Date: Oct. 2, 2016
Event: Citizen Soldier 400 (Round 29 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Dover (Del.) International Speedway (1-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 15th/13th (Running, completed 399 of 400 laps)
Point Standing: 13th(2,074 points; 11 points out of top-12 in Round of 16)
Winner: Martin Truex Jr.of Racing Furniture Row Racing (Toyota)

No. 14 Nature’s Bakery/Mobil 1 Chevrolet driver Tony Stewart finished 13th in Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, but the strong run wasn’t enough to keep the three-time champion in contention for NASCAR’s 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“We gave it 110 percent today,” said Stewart, who told the team on the radio that missing the Chase shouldn’t change the way it looks at the 2016 season. “We’ve had a really good year, and we won’t let this get us down. There’s lots of racing left this season.” 

Stewart entered Sunday’s race ranked 15th in the Round of 16, 11 points out of the final transfer position. The Dover finish bumped him up to 13th but still 11 points out of the all-important 12th place. Only the top 12 drivers advance to the three-race Round of 12 that begins this weekend at the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Stewart, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Chris Buescher were the Chase drivers who failed to advance.

Stewart arrived in Dover for the third and final race of the Round of 16 knowing he had a tough task to qualify for the Round of 12. He started 15th on the high concrete banks after rain cancelled qualifying on Friday and NASCAR set Sunday’s field per the rulebook. It didn’t take long for the Monster Mile to rear its ugly head Sunday, as Stewart held his position in the running order but reported the track “felt like a skating rink.” At the 100-lap mark, racing in 19th, he told the crew “the back of the car is real good; we just need to figure out how to make this thing cut.”

Stewart restarted the race in 17th on lap 108 and began turning good lap times on the long, green-flag run. He climbed to 13th despite a brush with the wall on lap 170. A yellow flag a few laps later allowed the No. 14 crew to make minor body repairs under caution and return Stewart to the track still on the lead lap. Not only was he becoming a factor in the race by moving to 13th place, but Stewart was 13th in points, just eight points out of the Chase, at the race’s halfway mark.

Stewart raced around 13th but couldn’t keep up with the blistering pace set by leader Jimmie Johnson, who lapped the No. 14 on lap 270. Stewart made a green-flag stop a few laps later and remained in the hunt to earn the free pass. With 85 laps remaining, Stewart began turning better laps times, even posting the fastest lap on the track on lap 321. At the time, as Stewart raced in 13th, only nine cars ran on the lead lap.

With 44 laps to go and only five cars on the lead lap, the No. 14 team pitted Stewart early in the hope he would be able to take advantage of faster tires and a timely caution in the closing laps. But the caution never came, and Stewart took the checkered in 13th place.

“I’m pretty excited about our day,” Stewart said. “We were much better than we were yesterday. Really proud of our team. We kept making it better all day. That is as good as we had.”

Sunday’s race was part of a rare NASCAR doubleheader. Rain postponed Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, forcing NASCAR to reschedule it for 10 a.m. on Sunday preceding the 2 p.m. Sprint Cup race.

Despite the disappointment of his elimination from the Chase, Stewart and the No. 14 team at SHR count the season a success. Stewart missed the first eight races of the season recovering from an off-season back injury but rebounded to post five top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 21 races in 2016. He also earned his 49th career victory in June at Sonoma (Calif.) International Raceway.

Stewart announced last year that 2016 is his final year of Sprint Cup racing. Sunday marked his 35th and final race at Dover, where he finishes with three wins, 11 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s and has led a total of 1,075 laps.

Stewart’s 13th-place finish led the SHR contingent in Dover, followed by Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, who finished 15th.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 28th.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 37th after a broken track bar mount put him behind the wall early in the race. Harvick returned to the race and finished, albeit 46 laps down.

Both Harvick and Busch moved on to the Round of 12. Harvick advanced because of his win Sept. 25 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Busch earned his way into the Round of 12 as his point tally during the Round of 16 put him solidly among the top-12. Joining Harvick and Busch in the Round of 12 are Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Austin Dillon. All had their respective point tallies reset to 3,000.

Three races will be run in the Round of 12, with the next cutoff coming after the Oct. 23 race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, whereupon the Chase field shrinks to eight. Another three races will be run in the Round of 8, where after the Nov. 13 race at Phoenix International Raceway, only four drivers will advance to the final, winner-take-all Championship Round Nov. 20 in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Truex won the Citizen Soldier 400 to score his seventh career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his second at Dover.

Kyle Busch finished 7.527 seconds behind Truex in the runner-up spot, while Elliott, Keselowski and Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Logano, Johnson, Dillon, Hamlin and Jeff Gordon comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were four caution periods for 22 laps with two drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race around the 1-mile, concrete oval.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the fourth race of the Chase – is the Oct. 8 Bank of America 500 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 7 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC. 

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