Things have suddenly turned a bit dicey for Stewart-Haas Racing at precisely the wrong time of the season.
After Saturday night's wild and wooly Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Chase fortunes for both Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman changed dramatically.
Throw in de facto teammate Danica Patrick (remember part of a "collaborative partnership" with Tommy Baldwin Racing) and the SHR contingent had a tough night in Thunder Valley.
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Newman lost his spot as the second wild card when he got caught in a crash with Juan Pablo Montoya early in the race that knocked him from contention. The two have had a long history of not exactly seeing eye to eye, which added another layer of intrigue to the storyline that significantly damaged Newman's shot at making the playoffs.
"The crash drove the frame into the motor, and the Outback Steakhouse Chevy was just too far gone to get it back out there," crew chief Tony Gibson. "Ryan just said somebody got into the left rear of him and cut the left-rear tire. The lap before that he started getting really loose, and then the very next lap, it just turned around on him. By the time we saw it, he had already spun. It's a shame.
"It's just misfortune. But we can't let this get us down. We've seen how one race can change this whole deal on who makes the Chase. We're not giving up. We'll fight to the bitter end."
However, Newman might be fighting his teammate and boss for one of those wild card spots. Stewart's problems at Bristol, which ended in a 27th place finish after a crash with Matt Kenseth, dropped him to 10th in the Sprint Cup Series standings.
He's now only 16 points ahead of Kasey Kahne for the final Chase points transfer, and if Stewart slips out, he'd have to use his three wins as a playoff ticket through a wild card.
Add to that challenge Stewart's feud with Kenseth that could bubble up during the course of the next 12 races, and the defending series champion has his work cut out for him.
"We weren't that great of a race car," Stewart said after the celebrated accident that ended with him firing his helmet at Kenseth's car under caution. "But we were definitely faster than that after that restart. I checked-up twice to not run over him and I learned my lesson there; I'm going to run over him every chance I've got from now until the end of the year, every chance I've got."
The chance of Stewart-Haas putting two cars into the Chase is questionable now after Saturday night's Bristol fireworks.
|Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.|
|Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.|
|Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.|
|Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.|
|Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.|
|Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.|
|Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.|
|A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.|
|Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.|
|Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.|
|Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.|
|Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.|
|13||Martin Truex Jr.||10|
|His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.|
|An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.|