Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), scored a 10th-place finish in the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. It was his 300th top-10 finish in 587 career Sprint Cup races and his 17th top-10 in 33 career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville.
“I’m happy with it,” said Stewart after scoring his best result since finishing ninth Aug. 2 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. “We’ve struggled the last three races we’ve run here. We did something in happy hour (final practice) with this second car that, to be honest, it was actually something I had a little input on. I’m not very smart, and it wasn’t because of me for sure, but it was Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and I and everybody working together and trying to find a solution that might fix our problem. We kind of made the change and stuck with it and knew that we weren’t exactly where we wanted to be in happy hour, but felt like in the race it was going to be better, and it was.”
Stewart qualified 13th for the 500-lap race around the historic .526-mile oval, but forfeited the spot after going to his backup racecar following a crash in practice on Saturday. Starting at the tail end of the 43-car field on the tight, paperclip-shaped oval was a challenge, but it was one Stewart relished. The three-time Sprint Cup race winner at Martinsville methodically picked off positions during the opening stages of the race, cracking the top-20 by lap 88 and top-15 by lap 100.
Throughout the race Stewart noted that his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy lacked forward drive off the turn’s exits. On occasion, he also noted a tight-handling issue, but that problem seemed to dissipate over the course of a run. After reviewing the tires during a pair of early pit stops, Johnston reported to Stewart that the left-rear tire was showing significant wear. In response, Stewart adjusted his method for negotiating the flat, half-mile track – a move that paid dividends as the race wound down.
Stewart cracked the top-10 for the first time on lap 352 and was seventh on lap 364. Other than a few restarts outside the top-10, the Indiana native remained a fixture in the top-10 through the end of the race.During the final 50 laps, the race was slowed by a handful of cautions. The last one, displayed on lap 495, set up a final three-lap sprint to the finish. A number of cars running behind the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy, which was holding down 10th place, elected to pit for fresh tires, placing Stewart in the unenviable position of having to hold off cars with fresh tires. With the same tenacity that made him a three-time Sprint Cup Series champion, Stewart held off their charges to score the top-10.