Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 36th in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Vickers ran in the top-20 throughout the 264-lap race, but a broken rear gear pulling out of the pits with 45 laps remaining ended the No. 14’s bid for a good finish.
“That was so disappointing,” said Vickers, who made his second 2016 start in the No. 14 substituting for Tony Stewart. “We had a really good Mobil 1 Chevrolet today. We were great on long runs and getting better on short runs. I really liked the way the finish was shaping up. I guess we’ll never know what would have happened.”
Rain and winds gusting up to 35 mph delayed the start of the race before sunshine quickly dried the track. NASCAR threw the green flag about 30 minutes after the scheduled start. Vickers started 19th on the 1.5-mile track and held his position in the early going, telling his crew he felt they had a fast car with only traffic slowing his progress.
Vickers restarted the race after the lap-30 competition caution in 18th and continued to turn quick lap times on long runs. By the 100-lap mark the SHR crew told Vickers he had the third-fastest car on the track in clean air. The key to success would be getting the No. 14 to go faster early in the green-flag runs.
Few cautions in the first two-thirds of the race limited the crew’s opportunities to make adjustments, and the No. 14 continued to race midpack in the 39-car field.
The No. 14 moved into the top-15 at lap 155 after pitting early on a green-flag run and taking advantage of the faster tires. With leader Joey Logano looming in Vickers’ rearview mirror, a caution on lap 176 kept the No. 14 on the lead lap. Vickers got a good jump on the lap-182 restart and raced in 16th until the next round of pit stops during a caution at lap 200.
As rain approached, high winds resumed and kicked up sand that made visibility difficult for spotters. After a spin brought out a caution, Vickers pitted on lap 219 and appeared ready to use the final 45 laps to climb into the top-10. But then trouble struck, as Vickers reported what he initially thought was a broken axle.
The No. 14 crew pushed the car to the garage and diagnosed the culprit as a broken rear gear. Quick work by the SHR crew and a multicar accident that slowed the race pace allowed Vickers to lose only 10 laps during the repairs. Vickers returned to the track to run out the remaining laps and crossed the start/finish line in 36th.
Ty Dillon will make his second 2016 start in the No. 14 in Sunday’s 500-kilometer race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup Series Champion, underwent surgery after sustaining a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in an all-terrain vehicle accident Jan. 31 while vacationing on the West Coast. Stewart attended the Las Vegas race. A timetable for Stewart’s return has not been determined, but he expects to make a full recovery and return to the No. 14 Chevrolet in 2016.