The “Big One” – the massive, multi-car accident that is a mainstay of restrictor-plate racing – happened on lap 44 of the Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Among the 16 cars collected in the melee was the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS of Tony Stewart.
Stewart’s car sustained right-side damage, and the front of his black-and-orange Chevy was beat up, as well. As Stewart tried to evade the mass of spinning cars, the nose of his machine dug into the water-logged sod lining the inside of turn one and pushed in the grille, breaking many components of the car’s cooling system, specifically, the brackets holding the radiator.
While the car never had to go to the garage area, numerous trips to pit road were needed to realign the front end and fix the right-side bodywork, grille and radiator assembly. The No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team worked quickly and methodically to get Stewart back onto the 2.66-mile oval.
When racing resumed, Stewart was two laps down and running by himself. With no one to draft with, the lead pack caught him on lap 73, which put him three laps down.
Stewart continued to log laps until rain washed over the track, forcing NASCAR to wave the red flag and stop the race on lap 125, 63 laps short of its scheduled 188-lap distance. A three-hour, 36-minute and six-second rain delay followed before the track was dry and racing resumed. Stewart soldiered on, finishing 27th, five laps down, but avoiding a dreaded DNF (did not finish).
Faring no better in the Aaron’s 499 were Stewart’s teammates, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick.
Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet for SHR, finished 32nd after getting caught in another multi-car crash on lap 182. Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for SHR, was collected in the same accident. She finished 33rd.
David Ragan won the Aaron’s 499 to break a 64-race winless streak. The win is his second career Sprint Cup victory and his first at Talladega.
Ragan’s Front Row Motorsports teammate, David Gilliland, finished .212 of a second behind Ragan in the runner-up spot while Carl Edwards, Michael Waltrip and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five. Regan Smith, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Scott Speed and Aric Almirola comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 31 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 192-lap race, which was extended four laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
With round 10 of 36 complete, Newman continues to lead the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He fell one spot to 17th and has 242 points, 141 back of series leader Johnson and 38 points behind 10th-place Greg Biffle. Stewart maintained his 22nd-place standing and has 224 points, 159 out of first and 56 behind Biffle. Patrick dropped one spot to 27th place in the standings and has 180 points, 203 behind Johnson and 100 away from Biffle.
Sixteen 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.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 20 spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 13th.