Tony Stewart had a potential top-10 result deteriorate in much the same way as the ending of the AdvoCare 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. In a crash-marred finish at the 1-mile oval, Stewart crossed the stripe in 19th.
After starting ninth for the 312-lap contest, Stewart charged to sixth. Then, as varying pit strategies played out, Stewart hung within the top-15. Crew chief Steve Addington directed smart chassis adjustments to the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), and Stewart kept his eyes fixed on the front of the field.
But Stewart’s race got derailed during a charge from a lap-274 pit stop where his crew put on only right-side tires, which took a few seconds longer as crew members also inserted a rubber into the right-rear spring.
While running in 14th and looking to grab 13th on lap 282, Stewart spun off turn two. The left-front corner of his Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy smacked the inside retaining wall, which required a prolonged stop on pit road to repair the damage.
Stewart lost a lap in the process, but his pit crew bandaged the No. 14 machine enough for Stewart to finish the race.
And the finish of the race is what many will be talking about.
A four-car accident on lap 312, triggered by Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer, brought out the red flag and set up a green-white-checkered finish. And as a brouhaha between the teams of the two feuding drivers made the garage area crazy, the race’s final restart made things even crazier.
Jeff Burton spun Danica Patrick on the penultimate lap, sending Patrick into the outside retaining wall between turns three and four. After running well in 13th, Patrick’s No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet limped off the wall and down to the apron of the track and then along the frontstretch, all the while leaking oil from an oil line that ruptured during the crash.
But the caution flag was never thrown. The leaders raced down the backstretch and into turn three, only to discover, as race winner Kevin Harvick said, “There was more oil than there was asphalt.”
Harvick tip-toed off turn four and crossed the finish line first to take the win. Denny Hamlin followed, with polesitter Kyle Busch – who led four times for a race-high 237 laps – in third. Behind the trio was calamity, as cars spun in the oil and careened off each other.
Patrick’s car served as a proverbial ping-pong ball, and the No. 39 Quicken Loans/U.S. Army Chevy of SHR’s Ryan Newman was seemingly hit on every side as he slid to a fifth-place finish.
Smoke billowed. Tempers flared. Crewmen loaded up a host of busted racecars. It was a wild, wild race in the wild, wild West.
Newman’s fifth-place run was his fifth top-five finish of 2012 and his eighth top-five in 21 career Sprint Cup starts at Phoenix. And Patrick, who is piloting the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing via a collaborative agreement with SHR, finished 17th to score her career-best Sprint Cup finish in just her 10th Sprint Cup start, in spite of the late-race nudge from Burton.
Harvick’s win in the AdvoCare 500k was his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Phoenix.
Hamlin finished .580 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Busch, Kasey Kahne and Newman rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 38 laps, with 15 drivers failing to finish the 319-lap race, which was extended seven laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
Stewart is representing SHR in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and came into the ninth race of the 10-race Chase in eighth place among the 12 Chase drivers, 80 points behind Chase leader Jimmie Johnson. Stewart leaves Phoenix ninth in the standings, 87 points behind new Chase leader Keselowski and 25 points behind fifth-place Hamlin.
Newman maintained 14th place in the standings. He has 1,009 points, 82 back of 13th-place Kyle Busch.
Just one race remains before a champion is crowned following the Ford 400 on Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Heading into the season finale, the top-12 Chase drivers rank as follows, with only Keselowski and Johnson eligible for the title.
1. Brad Keselowski (2,371 points) +1 position(s)
2. Jimmie Johnson (2,351 points, -20) -1
3. Kasey Kahne (2,321 points, -50) +1(mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
4. Clint Bowyer (2,319 points, -52) -1(mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
5. Denny Hamlin (2,309 points, -62) +2 (mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
6. Matt Kenseth (2,297 points, -74) -1 (mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
7. Greg Biffle (2,293 points, -78) +3 (mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
8. Kevin Harvick (2,285 points, -86) +3 (mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
9. Tony Stewart (2,284 points, -87) -1 (mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
10. Jeff Gordon (2,281 points, -90) -4 (mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
11. Martin Truex Jr. (2,260 points, -111) -2 (mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2,211 points, -160) +/-0 (mathematically eliminated from championship contention)
The Ford 400 begins at 3 p.m. EST, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 2 p.m.