Mark Martin, driving in place of the injured Tony Stewart, rallied to a strong ninth-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
With a Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS that was loose into the corners, tight in the middle and loose off the corners, Martin had his hands full. He dropped from his 16th-place starting spot and went a lap down before the halfway mark of the 400-lap race around the .75-mile oval.
But Martin and crew chief Steve Addington stayed the course, earning their lap back when a timely caution came out on lap 208. From there, the duo continuously worked on the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 machine. A savvy call by Addington to take only two tires on the final pit stop during a caution period on lap 395 placed Martin third for the three-lap shootout to the finish.
Martin manhandled his still imperfect racecar around the D-shaped layout for the final three laps, crossing the stripe in ninth to earn his first top-10 with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) and his 31st top-10 in 56 career Sprint Cup starts at Richmond.
“Really proud of all the guys on this Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 team,” Martin said. “They improved the car throughout the race and made some great calls. We got our first top-10 together. We’ll take that and build on it.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for SHR, finished third to score his sixth top-five of 2013 and his sixth top-five in 24 career Sprint Cup starts at Richmond.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 30th in her 36th career Sprint Cup start and her second at Richmond. Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 20 spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 10th for his first career top-10.
Carl Edwards won the Federated Auto Parts 400 to score his 21st career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Richmond.
Kurt Busch finished .668 of a second behind Edwards in the runner-up spot, while Newman, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Martin and Stenhouse comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 29 laps, with three drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
Richmond marked the last race of the regular season, as the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins.
The top-10 drivers in points are eligible to compete in the Chase, along with two wild-card drivers – Kasey Kahne and Truex – who were admitted to the Chase field by having the most wins among the drivers who were between 11th and 20th in the standings. NASCAR recalibrated the points for the 12 drivers as soon as the Richmond race was over, with each driver getting 2,000 points. With the exception of wild-card entrants Kahne and Truex, drivers also received three bonus points for each of their respective wins during the 26-race regular season. For drivers starting the Chase with identical point totals, their seed was determined by the traditional tiebreaker of best finishes beyond race victories.
Newman just missed the Chase, as his third-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 put him in a tie with Truex for the second and final wild-card spot. But Truex won the tiebreaker as he had more second-place finishes than Newman.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the first race of the Chase – is the Geico 400 on Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 1 p.m.