After enduring a rain delay that turned the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race into a day race on Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart had to endure a broken wheel hub that left him 29 laps down and in 30th-place when the checkered flag dropped.
Stewart and the other drivers who made up the 40-car field were only able to complete 48 laps on Saturday night before rain forced NASCAR Sprint Cup Series officials to postpone the race to Sunday with a scheduled 1 p.m. EDT start. Rain continued, however, pushing the start to just past 4:30 p.m.
“I’m glad we got this in,” Stewart said. “I’m appreciative to the fans that stayed last night. I know it’s taxing on a lot of them, but we appreciate the fact that they stayed to watch.”
On a green racetrack washed clean by the heavy rain that inundated the .533-mile oval, Stewart restarted in 31st. He drove his No. 14 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) to 25th by lap 75 despite it being tight through the track’s high-banked corners.
During a scheduled pit stop on lap 86 while the race was under caution, Stewart got fuel and a left-rear wedge adjustment. He kept his tires, as they had less than 40 laps on them. The strategy was to gain track position, but with the No. 83 Toyota of Matt DiBenedetto pitted in front of the No. 14 team’s pit stall, Stewart found himself boxed in. He had to stop and put his car in reverse before he could exit his stall, all of which cost valuable time. Nonetheless, Stewart returned to the track a respectable 18th.
Despite Stewart’s tires being relatively new, they were no match for the fresh tires of his counterparts. As green-flag laps clicked off the board, Stewart dropped in the running order. After 100 laps he was 21st and after 150 laps he was 31st.
When the caution flag waved on lap 157, Stewart took the opportunity to pit for four fresh tires and fuel. But just past lap 200, Stewart detected a vibration that was worsening with each lap. By lap 230, the situation was untenable and Stewart was forced to make an unscheduled, four-tire stop. The culprit was a loose right-rear wheel.
But when racing resumed, the vibration continued, and it was worse than before. Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz called Stewart to the pits and it was quickly determined the right-rear wheel hub needed to be replaced. Behind the wall Stewart went, whereupon the Haas Automation crew went to work in changing the hub.
On lap 280 Stewart returned to the track, albeit 28 laps down and in 38th position. From there, Stewart soldiered through the race, looking to gain positions through the attrition of others. It worked, for between mechanical woes and crashes, Stewart was able to rise to 30th.
At the other end of the racing spectrum was Stewart’s SHR teammate Kevin Harvick, who drove his No. 4 Busch Beer Chevrolet SS to the win in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Harvick led four times for 128 laps to score his 33rd career Sprint Cup win, his second of the season and his second in 32 career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol. It was the 33rd point-paying Sprint Cup victory for SHR since its inception in 2009 and the organization’s third this season. It was SHR’s first win at Bristol.
“I’m happy for these guys,” Stewart said. “This is a hard place to win at. There are so many things that can go wrong. All it takes is one thing. I mean, we had a wheel that was loose and that messed our whole day up.
“Our Haas Automation Chevy was fun today, too. Unfortunately, the part of the race where we were running really hard wasn’t the part of the race that counted for us. We just had a good time and enjoyed it.”