RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — In his last chance to make NASCAR’s playoff, Tony Stewart never had one.
Stewart started 19th Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway in the race that finalized the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, climbed as high as 10th inside the final 100 laps and then fell back when his crew missed a lug nut on his final pit stop.
“That’s all I had, bud,” Stewart radioed after his 15th-place finish.
“Pretty impressive to drive all the way up those guys,” replied crew chief Chad Johnston. “We had a better car than that, but far cry from where we started the weekend.”
Stewart struggled through most of Friday’s two practice sessions before qualifying 19th, his best starting position at Richmond in four years.
This is the third time in the 11 years of the Chase format that Stewart has failed to qualify. The three-time champion missed the Chase last season when a broken leg sidelined him for the final 15 races of the year.
He just returned last week after a three-week absence following the Aug. 9 death of Kevin Ward Jr. Stewart’s sprint car struck and killed Ward at a dirt track in New York, and Stewart spent three weeks in seclusion following Ward’s death.
Stewart was granted a waiver by NASCAR last week that would have allowed him to participate in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship should he qualify by winning one of the last two races, but that was his only chance to do it.
He could have earned the spot last week in his return, but was involved in an early accident and finished 41st.
That left him with only one more chance, and he came up well short at RIR, where he has won three times.
Stewart did not wish to speak with reporters after climbing from his car, team PR representative Mike Arning said. The driver spoke with his crew briefly and then disappeared inside his hauler.
With 10 races remaining, Stewart is winless for the first season of his career.
Greg Zipadelli, Stewart’s long-time crew chief and now the vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, said Friday the team planned to assess its position after Saturday night’s and then assess the rest of the season. Stewart’s is co-owner of four race teams, and drivers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick qualified for the playoffs. Danica Patrick did not.
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