For the second straight week it was a matter of what you see isn’t necessarily what you get for Tony Stewart.
Despite racing his way into the top-10, the driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) had to settle for a 28th-place finish in the Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn on Sunday when NASCAR was forced to call the event after just 138 laps due to persistent rain that stopped the race on three separate occasions.
Drivers took the green flag under threatening skies and made it to lap 11 before caution was displayed for the first rain shower of the afternoon. After dropping back a handful of spots at the start due to a loose-handling racecar, Stewart made some adjustments to the Chevy’s track bar and reported to the team that the car’s handling had finally started coming to him right before the caution.
The adjustments helped Stewart advance from 20th to 16th when racing resumed after a red-flag period that lasted almost an hour. Outside of the competition caution on lap 40, it was clean and green racing, and Stewart had reached ninth place before driver Kyle Busch in the No. 18 car made contact with the outside retaining wall at the exit of turn four to bring out the fourth caution. The red flag was displayed a few laps later when rain once again fell on the 2-mile track.
Trouble started for Stewart when racing resumed on lap 59. He dropped from ninth to 19th in the running order within a matter of three laps, reporting that the car was not operating anywhere close to how it had prior to the red flag and specifically asking if there was damage to the nose section. Unbeknownst to the team, a piece of debris from the No. 18 car had become lodged between the splitter and the grill on the No. 14 Chevrolet SS, adversely affecting the aerodynamics of the machine. Unable to manage the car’s handling, Stewart was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop under green-flag conditions on lap 76. Because he had to stop a number of laps before the rest of the field, Stewart found himself a lap down in 32nd place.
Another caution on lap 124 sealed the fate of the three-time Sprint Cup Series champ. The No. 14 was among a number of cars that had started a round of green-flag stops, and Stewart was scored two laps down in 32nd place when the caution was displayed. Rather than come to pit road for service during the caution, Stewart elected to take the wave-around to regain one of the laps he had lost. He managed to race from 32nd to 28th place before the heaviest rain shower of the day stopped track activity for the third time, ultimately forcing NASCAR to call it a complete race on lap 138.
“The balance on the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet was pretty good there early,” said Stewart, the 2000 winner of the spring race at Michigan. “I knew something was wrong as soon as we went back racing after that second red flag. I actually thought we had a hole in the nose of the car. Once we were able to clean the grill it was a totally different car.”While it was a trying race for Stewart, the outcome was much better for his teammate Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, who led the SHR contingent by winning the rain-shortened event. Busch started 24th and led six laps around the 2-mile oval to bring his laps-led total at Michigan to 448, marking Busch’s 27th career Sprint Cup victory, his second this season and his third at Michigan.