For much of Sunday’s Pocono 400 it appeared Stewart-Haas Racing was going to have a banner day.
Kevin Harvick was among the strongest cars of the day, while team owner Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch were consistently contending in the top five. Just past the 80-lap mark of the race, SHR was running first, second and third.
However, the good times would not last for all.
On Lap 116, Harvick would be forced to pit road with a flat tire while running second to Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet. After completing the stop, Harvick rejoined the race in the 32nd spot.
Harvick would eventually climb his way back up to 14th, but was not happy after another solid run was ruined.
Just after Harvick hit pit road for his flat tire, the caution flew on Lap 118 and brought the leaders in for service. While Stewart was able to win the race off pit road, he was caught speeding in three different segments and forced to give up the lead.
Stewart restarted in 28th after the penalty, but was able to finish the day in the 13th spot.
"100 percent driver error," Stewart said. "I don’t know how I got through the lights like I did, but I got to where I blew through all the lights and didn’t have any on the tach so I had no clue that I was over it. It was 100 percent driver error. I gave my guys grief last week with a sixth-place run thought we should run in the top three and then I threw it away this week. Had an awesome Mobil 1 Chevy all day, all from Friday through Sunday so great race just the driver screwed it up this week."
The tough breaks were not over for SHR, though. Danica Patrick, who was making just her third Pocono start, was using pit strategy to work her way to the front when she cut a tire running second on Lap 138 and hit the outside wall to bring out the caution.
The team was able to make repairs, but she finished the day 37th, two laps down.
"I just went into turn three, and the car just shot to the wall," Patrick said. "It looks like the left front lost air for some reason. I believe Harvick had the same thing happen to him. Goodyear said our cars had similar left front tire issues – lost air in tires and sidewalls bowed out. It’s disappointing, because I think we could have had a good finish."
While the rest of the team stumbled in the late stages of Sunday’s race, Kurt Busch carried the banner for a third-place finish. This was the first time Busch finished better than 18th since his win at Martinsville.
"It was a great top-five run," Busch said. "Qualifying throughout the race, the finish, restarts were good to us. Thanks to Daniel (Knost, crew chief) for leading us in a new direction today. I feel like we shed some new team skin today and ran up front. Haas Automation has been great, State Water Heaters, Chevrolet and Monster everybody has been wonderful. We just need to start building this chemistry as a team if we want to be a championship contender. Today is a perfect type of day."
Despite the up-and-down day across the board, competition director Greg Zipadelli was pleased with the team’s overall performance throughout the weekend.
"We had a strong weekend as far as speed and all the things and did well working together," he said. "We had a good day going and it just hasn’t been our year so far. It was encouraging to have all four cars have speed all weekend. We’ve had one or two or three, but never all of them. They all did a good job. It’s just a shame."