Monday, Aug 08

Stewart’s Hot Streak Cools at Sonoma

Tony Stewart was headed toward a top-10 finish in a rough-and-tumble Toyota/SaveMart 350k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway until a run-in with Jeff Burton 18 laps from the finish. The collision in the treacherous turn 11 turned Stewart sideways and dropped him from ninth to 28th when the checkered flag waved.

“Just too many mistakes today,” said a subdued Stewart after completing all 110 laps around the 1.99-mile road course.

The finish ended a strong streak for Stewart, the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). He came into Sonoma with four straight top-10 finishes, including a win June 2 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, that vaulted him from 21st in the championship standings to 10th.

Sunday’s result dropped Stewart five point positions to 15th, where he’s 20 points outside of the top-10.

The finish at Sonoma was not indicative of the effort, as the Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy often turned laps as fast as the leaders. But with varying pit strategies playing out, the field was often jumbled. Fast racecars were sometimes mid-pack while slower cars were up front. That led to plenty of contact, as drivers attempted to make moves to either advance or defend their position or pass slower traffic.

Quick straightaways, particularly the one leading into the hairpin turn 11, send drivers deep into the corners. Drivers are hard on the brakes, and often their cars dance as they struggle for grip. That’s what happened to Stewart as he caught Burton in between the entry and center of the hairpin on lap 92. The nose of Stewart’s Chevy tagged the right-rear corner of Burton’s bumper. Stewart spun in an attempt to avoid Burton, and Burton spun due to the contact with Stewart. Both drivers lost extensive track position, and top-10 finishes vanished for both. Stewart finished 28th. Burton finished 31st.

Stewart’s SHR teammate Ryan Newman earned a better result. He brought his No. 39 Haas Automation 30th Anniversary Chevrolet SS home a respectable 15th.

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, had an outing similar to Stewart’s and finished 29th.

Martin Truex Jr. won the Toyota/SaveMart 350k to score his second career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Sonoma.

Jeff Gordon finished 8.133 seconds behind Truex in the runner-up spot, while Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were seven caution periods for 19 laps, with four drivers failing to finish.

With round 16 of 36 complete, Stewart continues to lead the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is 15th with 433 points, 140 back of series leader Johnson and 20 points behind 10th-place Truex. Newman maintained his 18th-place standing and has 418 points, 155 out of first and 35 behind Truex. Patrick maintained her 27th-place standing and has 292 points, 281 behind Johnson and 161 away from Truex.

Ten races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.

Kasey Kahne and Stewart are the only drivers between 11th and 20th in points with a victory, so they hold the first and second wild-card spots, respectively.

Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished two spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 27th.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Kentucky 400 on Saturday, June 29 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 6:30 p.m.



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