Monday, November 17, 2014

CUP: Tony Stewart Last As Stewart-Haas Racing Bookends Homestead Field

Tony Stewart picked up the 6th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway when his #14 Bass Pro Shops  / Mobil 1 Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after he completed 182 of the race’s 267 laps.

The finish was Stewart’s second of 2014 and his first since the spring race at Talladega, 26 races ago.  Stewart was one of 25 different last-place finishers in 2014, the most in a single Cup season since 2008, which had 27.  The modern-era record remains 29, set in 2002.

Stewart’s struggles worsened after the Talladega race.  A 7th in the June race at Dover, scene of his most recent win the year before, was Stewart’s first top-ten finish in five races, and he would not snare another until Loudon, six races after that.  19th in points heading into August’s race at Watkins Glen, frustrations gave way to tragedy when Stewart was involved in a tragic on-track accident that claimed the life of dirt track racer Kevin Ward, Jr.  Stewart sat out the next three races, and while he was given a chance to win his way into the Chase, he finished just 41st at Atlanta and 15th at Richmond.

In The Chase itself, Stewart qualified inside the Top Ten four times, but with the exception of a 4th-place run at Martinsville after a late-race battle with eventual winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Stewart only gained back one of the points positions he lost in his three-race absence, moving to 25th that afternoon.  After a 20th-place finish at Phoenix, where his driver Kevin Harvick dominated on his way to a championship-round-earning win, Stewart looked to Homestead, scene of his third career victory in 1999, to give him his first win of the season.

When practice opened on Friday, Stewart timed in 32nd in the opening session and improved to only 28th in qualifying with an average speed of 178.024 mph.  As his driver Harvick continued to fine-tune his championship machine, Stewart still struggled to find speed on Saturday, running 25th in Saturday’s morning practice and 26th in Happy Hour.  Stewart was one of only 43 drivers to attempt to make the season finale, so every driver on the list secured a spot in Sunday’s field.

Starting last Sunday was Brett Moffitt, making his seventh start of his abbreviated rookie season with new sponsorship from X8 Energy Gum on Identity Ventures Racing’s #66.  However, just seconds before the green flag, Michael Annett made an unscheduled stop in his #7 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet and had to hustle down the backstretch to catch the back of the field.

Annett and Moffitt exchanged the 43rd spot in the early laps along with Blake Koch, the newly-crowned 2014 LASTCAR Nationwide Champion, making his first Cup start since Charlotte last month.  Annett was the first driver to lose a lap around Lap 13, the same lap Koch stayed out under caution to lead a lap before falling back, and Koch re-took the 43rd spot o Lap 49.  He didn’t hold it for long as Annett fell four laps off the pace, holding off Moffitt, who brought out two consecutive cautions for banging the wall on Laps 59 and 87.

Homestead’s traditionally low attrition created a surprising Bottom Five.  On Lap 119, with all 43 cars still running and much of the back half of the field only a few laps down to the leaders, 5th-place Kyle Busch broke an axle leaving pit road and took his #18 M&M’s Toyota behind the wall.  Just five laps later, Busch had slipped to last, a spot he held by a large margin when he returned on Lap 143, 24 laps in arrears.  Then on Lap 163, Greg Biffle lost the right-front tire on his #16 3M Ford, dropping him to 42nd by Lap 168 and to last on Lap 185.  By that time, the damaged #99 Fastenal Ford of Carl Edwards dropped to 39th.  But on Lap 189, Edwards was passed for the spot by Stewart, who apparently also tagged the wall and pulled his car to the garage.  By 55 laps to go, Stewart was officially listed as the race’s first retiree, and when Biffle returned to the track, Stewart took the 43rd spot on Lap 230.  He would not relinquish the spot.

While the finish ended Stewart’s streak of 15 consecutive seasons with at least one win, Kevin Harvick went on to win the race - and the championship - and a plain-clothed Stewart greeted him on the stage.

Finishing 42nd on Sunday was Trevor Bayne, whose final start for the Wood Brothers ended when a brake line ruptured with 60 laps to go.  Biffle climbed to 41st while Busch made it to 39th, both of them still limping around the track when the checkered flag fell.  Finishing between the two in 40th was A.J. Allmendinger, who recovered from a spin on Lap 156 to get the Lucky Dog on Lap 195.  On Lap 237, Allmendinger was still on the lead lap and near the Top 20 when his #47 Hungry Jack / Martha White Chevrolet suddenly snapped loose and crashed in Turn 1.

Finishing 32nd on Sunday was Josh Wise, who in his first full season driving for Phil Parsons Racing did not finish last a single time in 2014.  It was a tremendous accomplishment for the entire PPR team, which had won four of the last five LASTCAR championships and finished last 38 times in the 180 races run in that stretch - more than 1 finish for every 5 races.  At season’s end, Wise had just eight bottom-five finishes - only three more than Jimmie Johnson.

Michael McDowell, PPR’s driver for three of those titles, also showed improvement.  He finished the year with just one last-place finish in his first full season driving for Leavine Family Racing (Las Vegas).  Driving a #95 Ford carrying all the sponsors the team gathered in 2014, McDowell came home 21st at Homestead, his best finish since an 18th at Bristol in August.

*This is the first last-place finish for both Stewart and the #14 in a Cup race at Homestead.  It’s also the first for Chevrolet in this event since 2005, when Brian Vickers’ #25 GMAC / Chevrolet crashed after 82 laps.

43) #14-Tony Stewart / 182 laps / crash
42) #21-Trevor Bayne / 204 laps / crash
41) #16-Greg Biffle / 220 laps / running
40) #47-A.J. Allmendinger / 235 laps / running
39) #18-Kyle Busch / 246 laps / running

1st) Mike Bliss (5)
2nd) Dave Blaney (3)
3rd) Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Timmy Hill, Clay Rogers, Tony Stewart (2)
4th) A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Denny Hamlin, Travis Kvapil, Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, Morgan Shepherd, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers, Cole Whitt, J.J. Yeley (1)

1st) #37-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #93-BK Racing (5)
2nd) #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #40-Hillman Racing, #77-Randy Humphrey Racing (2)
3rd) #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #21-Wood Brothers Racing, #23-BK Racing, #26-BK Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #33-Circle Sport, #38-Front Row Motorsports, #42-Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, #43-Richard Petty Motorsports, #44-Team XTREME Racing, #47-JTG-Daugherty Racing, #55-Michael Waltrip Racing, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / Identity Ventures Racing, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #83-BK Racing, #87-Identity Ventures Racing, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Toyota (14)
3rd) Ford (7)

1 comment:

UnderdogFan89 said...

I know this is really late, but it looks like the #93 BK Racing car took the owner's title, winning the tie-breaker of bottom five finishes 6-5 over the #37.