Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Driver Scores First Top-Five of Season

Date:  March 16, 2014

Event:  Food City 500 (Round 4 of 36)

Series:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Location:  Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval)

Start/Finish:  37th/4th (Running, completed 503 of 503 laps)

Winner:  Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing (Ford) 

Tony Stewart earned his best result of the still young 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season by finishing fourth in the rain-delayed Food City 500 Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

It was an impressive outing considering Stewart started the race 37th in the 43-car field. His No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) was a handful on Friday in the weekend’s opening practice, and that day’s qualifying session proved no better. But in the two practices on Saturday, Stewart and crew chief Chad Johnston made incremental gains, and they ended the final practice session with a Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy that had a fighting chance for Sunday.

“To start 37th and end up fourth today, I’m pretty excited about that,” Stewart said. “I’m really excited for Chad Johnston and everybody on this Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 team. Everybody just worked hard all weekend. We had a long way to go from Friday when we weren’t very good, and every day we just got better and better. So, I’m really proud of this team.” 

Forty laps into the 503-lap race, which went three laps beyond its scheduled 500-lap distance due to a late caution before rain ended the race for good, Stewart climbed 10 spots to 27th. After a caution for debris on lap 60, Stewart cracked the top-20.

Stewart ran in and around the top-20 before rain interrupted the race on lap 136.

When racing resumed nearly three-and-a-half hours later, Stewart and Johnston continue to make their Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy better. Smart strategy calls by Johnson also aided the cause, the first of which came when Johnson kept Stewart on the .533-mile oval following a caution on lap 157 that bumped him up to 14th. 

Stewart stayed in that spot through the midpoint of the race, but by lap 275, was knocking on the door of the top-10. 

With a blistering pace being set by the leaders, many were experiencing tire problems, but not Stewart. Johnston told Stewart after a four-tire pit stop on lap 278: “Tires look great. You’re doing a good job taking care of them.”

Stewart held steady on the outside of the top-10 before finally breaking through with help from Johnston. A savvy, two-tire pit stop while under caution on lap 425 propelled Stewart to seventh when racing resumed on lap 430. 

Stewart dropped to ninth but never any lower, and when his SHR teammate Kevin Harvick suffered misfortune on lap 451 when a broken oil line sent him out of the lead and into the turn one wall, Stewart took advantage of the resulting calamity. As cars stacked up to avoid Harvick, Stewart motored low and emerged from the chaos in fourth. 

Stewart held the position through the race’s final laps to pick up his seventh top-five in 30 career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol and his 180th top-five in 525 career Sprint Cup starts. 

“If you come out of this place with a top-five, you’ve had a good day,” Stewart said. “Track position was big, like it always is here. We were pretty strong at the end, but we just couldn’t run those guys down in front of us. Happy with the day that we had.” 

Making the finish even more meaningful for Stewart was that it came as the three-time Sprint Cup champion continues to recover from a broken right leg sustained last August, which forced him to miss the final 15 races of the 2013 season.

“To come to Bristol and run 500 laps here and get a top-five is just what the doctor ordered,” Stewart said. “It’s big. This is a physical place. If you look at the lap times we were running – mid-15 second laps around here all day – it’s no walk in the park, by any means. It’s not a win, I know that, but it feels like a win.

“It’s something I needed, for sure. Obviously for Chad and I to work together for the first time for four or five races into the season and be able to get a top-five at Bristol, that is pretty big for us. We had a really good car, very balanced and very driveable. Chad just kept working on it all day and making it better for us.” 

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy/Get Found Chevrolet SS for SHR, started 36th and finished 18th. It was Patrick’s 50th career Sprint Cup start and her fourth at Bristol.

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 35th after spending the majority of the race among the top-15. Busch led three times for 28 laps, but was involved in an accident on lap 394. He was able to complete the race, but finished 30 laps down after making repairs. 

Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 39th after the broken oil line knocked him from the lead and into the wall. Harvick was in command of the race, having led 28 consecutive laps before misfortune struck.

Carl Edwards won the Food City 500 to score his 22nd career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Bristol. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished behind Edwards in the runner-up spot, while Aric Almirola, Stewart and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top-five. Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Kyle Larson comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 12 caution periods for 95 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the race, which ended under caution when more rain swept over the track.

With round four of 36 complete, Harvick leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is 21st, 74 points behind new series leader Brad Keselowski. Stewart is 23rd, 75 points out of first. Patrick is 28th, 101 points out of first. Busch is 31st, 106 points out of first.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, March 23 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at 2:30 p.m.