Finding victory in defeat isn’t easy, but Mark Martin and the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet team of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) did just that in the AdvoCare 500 Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. An early-race accident prevented them from contending which resulted in a disappointing 25th-place finish, but Martin and company scored a moral victory, building on their rapport and communication – a huge asset as the 2013 season continues.
“I’m amazed we were able to do what we did tonight,” said Martin, a two-time Atlanta winner (November 1991 and 1994). “I’m surprised that deal didn’t knock the radiator out of the car. The guys did an incredible job getting us back out there. The car just wasn’t quite the same, but we still made some pretty good strides. If we can get a little luck to go our way, we’re going to be in good shape.”
Going out second during Friday evening’s qualifying session resulted in a 27th-place starting spot for Sunday’s 500-mile race. Despite starting deep in the field, solid practice sessions Saturday afternoon generated optimism among team members for the race.
Martin made steady progress during the first few race circuits around the 1.54-mile oval with his only complaint being that the car was “plowing” a little and needed adjustments to free up the handling. The team made a chassis adjustment, changed four tires and added fuel, sending Martin back on the track in 19th-place for a restart.
Jeff Gordon spun his tires on the lap-32 restart and set off a chain reaction that collected a handful of drivers, including Martin. The No. 14 Chevrolet sustained heavy front-end damage, and Martin lost a lap while the team made repairs to the car on pit road, placing the driver of the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy a lap down in 39th-place when green-flag racing resumed on lap 40.
A round of adjustments and savvy driving by Martin put the team in position to get the lap back when the fourth caution of the race was displayed for debris on lap 77. Despite all of the hard work, the No. 14 Chevrolet never recovered completely from the early-race damage. Rather than contending for a top finish, Martin and company used the race as an opportunity to develop their relationship, making great strides in adjusting to the driver’s needs.
“Making this change (to the No. 14 team) was pretty huge because not only is it different crew guys work on the car, which really isn’t a huge thing, but it’s a whole different thought process, it’s a whole different bunch of guys that I didn’t have a chance to go to test in February and go hang out in the shop,” Martin said. “We’re starting to get kind of in a groove. Last week (Bristol, Tenn.) was really tough, but we’ve had some testing time now and another race weekend, so we’re getting more dialed in. I’m enjoying working with these guys. They’re a good bunch of guys, and they’ve made me feel real comfortable.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Aspen Dental Chevrolet, led the SHR contingent Sunday with his fifth-place finish. It was his second top-five in 21 career Sprint Cup starts at Atlanta and his fifth top-five of the season.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 21st. It was Patrick’s 35th career Sprint Cup start and her second at Atlanta. Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished five spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 16th.
Kyle Busch won the AdvoCare 500 to score his 28th career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his second at Atlanta.
Joey Logano finished .740 seconds behind Busch in the runner-up spot, while Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Newman rounded out the top-five. Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 47 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 325-lap race.
With round 25 of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He moved up one position to 14th and has 699 points, 138 back of series leader Jimmie Johnson and 20 behind 10th-place Kurt Busch. Patrick maintained her 27th-place standing and has 459 points, 378 behind Johnson and 260 away from Kurt Busch.
The No. 14 team is 15th in Sprint Cup owner points, 23 out of the top-10 and 141 behind the series-leading No. 48 team of Hendrick Motorsports. The No. 14 team is fourth in line to grab one of the two wild-card positions for the 12-team Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The No. 5 team of Hendrick Motorsports, 12th in points, holds the first wild card via its two victories. The No. 56 team of Michael Waltrip Racing, 13th in points, holds the second and final wild card via its lone win June 23 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. The No. 39 team of SHR, 14th in points, is third in the wild-card race with its lone win Aug. 4 in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The No. 14 team also has a win, earned June 2 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, and if the team surpasses the No. 56 and No. 39 teams in points, the No. 14 team will earn the second wild card.
Only two races remain before the cutoff for the 10-race Chase. Following the Sept. 7 race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, the owner standings will be reset, with each team getting 2,000 points. With the exception of wild-card entrants (11th- and 12th-place teams), teams also receive three bonus points for each of their respective wins during the 26-race regular season. For teams starting the Chase with identical point totals, their seed is determined by the traditional tiebreaker of best finishes beyond race victories.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday, Sept. 7 at Richmond. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.