Stewart Snares Sixth at Indy and Third at Charlotte in Double Duty II CONCORD, N.C., (May 28, 2001) - In just under eight hours on Sunday, Tony Stewart logged 1,100 racing miles by completing the full distance in the Indianapolis 500 and the ...
Stewart Snares Sixth at Indy and Third at Charlotte in Double Duty II
CONCORD, N.C., (May 28, 2001) - In just under eight hours on Sunday, Tony Stewart logged 1,100 racing miles by completing the full distance in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.
In his second attempt at Double Duty since 1999, Stewart finished sixth at Indy before rallying to a strong third-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His marks beat the ones he set two years earlier, when he finished ninth at Indy and fourth at Charlotte.
Stewart's incredible tour of duty began at Indy when the green flag waved for the 85th running of the Indianapolis 500 at 12 p.m. EDT. He started his Target/Home Depot G-Force Aurora seventh, but couldn't make much headway during the opening laps as a series of cautions slowed the pace for the first 21 laps of the 200-lap race. Once the race was able to get underway cleanly, Stewart hung back, biding his time for a late race charge.
While running 10th, Stewart ducked into the pits to make a green flag pit stop on lap 47. Four tires and a full load of fuel were added, along with front and rear wing adjustments to add more downforce. Another green flag stop was made on lap 80, with another turn of the front wing for more downforce.
The car seemed to respond after those changes, as Stewart steadily climbed his way toward the top-five. While running sixth, the caution flag flew for Jon Herb's crash into the turn three wall. Again Stewart came to pit road for four tires and fuel, but this time no adjustments were made.
Stewart's crew performed a flawless stop, allowing their driver to gain fifth-place when the race restarted on lap 119.
Stewart quickly displaced Robby Gordon for fourth, and then set his sights on the formidable trio of drivers ahead of him. Team Penske's drivers, Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves, were running 1-2, while Indy 500 veteran Michael Andretti ran a close third.
The running order stayed that way until Cory Witherill spun in turn four, setting the stage for a battle in the pits to see which crew could get their driver out quickest.
With nearly all of the teams bringing their cars down pit lane, the action was fast and furious. Of the leaders, Stewart was the first to leave his stall, and he motored down pit road at the Indy Racing League mandated 80 mph pit road speed limit. But just as Stewart was nearing turn one, Castroneves and de Ferran pulled wide put of their pits directly into his path. Stewart hit the brakes hard, but with Andretti right on his bumper, Andretti was unable to avoid making contact. Stewart's machine was undamaged, but Andretti would have to return to the pits for a new nose and wing section.
Having watched all of this unfold from race control, IRL officials awarded the lead to Stewart, as the blocking tactics employed by the two Penske drivers went against IRL rules.
When the race restarted on lap 139, Stewart held the point. For 12 laps Stewart led, until the caution came out yet again, this time for rain.
After checking the weather radar, team owner Chip Ganassi called Stewart into the pits for a quick gas and go on lap 149. The current rain shower would be gone surmised Ganassi, but another pocket of rain, this one heavier, was moving east toward the speedway and had the possibility to end the race early. Ganassi wanted to make sure that Stewart could go as long as possible on a tank of fuel if more weather factored into the race.
But as weather developed so too did another situation. On lap 150 Stewart radioed that he was feeling numbness and cramping in his right leg and foot.
Five laps later, the rains intensified and the red flag was thrown, temporarily halting the race. Upon bringing his car to pit road, Stewart climbed out and briefly tried to stretch his leg. Feeling that he needed expert help, he sprinted to the garage area's medical center.
This set off a frenzy among the media on pit road. Knowing that Stewart was nearing the drop-dead time of when he needed to get out of the car in order to make it back to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600, the media set off after Stewart, thinking he was leaving to go back to Charlotte. Instead, Stewart was just using the rain delay to his advantage, as therapists and doctors messaged his right hamstring and thigh.
Just as quickly as the rain started, it went away, with bright sunshine bathing the 2.5-mile track. Only 20 minutes passed before veteran Indy announcer Tom Carnegie ordered drivers back to their cars. Stewart quickly emerged from the first-aid center and hopped on a golf cart, ready to go back to his race car. But the driver of the golf-cart thought what many of the media who followed Stewart thought - that he was going back to Charlotte.
As the golf cart sped away toward the helicopter pad, Stewart got the driver's attention after traveling about 10 yards. "Where are you going?" Stewart yelled, before jumping off and running back to his car, much to the approval of the Indy faithful.
He quickly buckled in, and when the race restarted on lap 158, Stewart was fifth.
With 35 laps to go, second-place Robbie Buhl spun. That set the stage for the final series of pit stops. Stewart, comfortable with his tires but wanting less downforce, came to pit road for a splash of gas and a quick front wing adjustment. But when the hydraulic jack dropped Stewart stalled the car. About five arduously long seconds passed before the engine could be re-fired. Stewart returned to the field in fifth when the race restarted on lap 171.
Unfortunately for Stewart, no more forward progress could be made. In fact, teammate Bruno Junqueira passed Stewart for fifth in the waning laps. Securely in sixth, that's where Stewart finished when the checkers flew for Indy 500 winner Castroneves.
Stewart quickly brought his car to pit road and exited the cockpit. He gave brief pause to thank his crew before making a mad dash to the golf cart that would wisk him away to helicopter pad.
While on the helicopter en route to Signature/Combs Airport, Stewart reflected on his day at Indy.
"We got into the lead with a car that was really balanced and comfortable to drive and I just got greedy. The sun came out and that changed the track conditions from what we had the rest of the race up to that point.
"You know, the driver made too many mistakes. I stalled in the pits. That got us bad track position. The biggest mistake I made was the call to take downforce off the car. It was really balanced with the downforce we had in it, but when I took it off the car was real skittish in traffic.
"The guy's did a great job," continued Stewart. "It's very easy to see why those guys won the race last year. They've got a great race team and its just a matter of when you race these cars once a year, its hard to do what we were trying to do here. But, I was gambling that I wouldn't make three mistakes today and I made three. You just can't make that many."
While Stewart may have made some mistakes in race strategy at Indy, he made excellent time in his air travel back to Charlotte. The helicopter ride out of the infield at Indy to Signature/Combs took a little over three minutes, and the Citation 10 used to make the flight from Indy to Concord Regional Airport took just 47 minutes. On the flight, Stewart was administered an I.V., taking in just under two liters of fluids.
When the plane touched down at Concord Regional, it was just past 5 p.m. EDT. With plenty of time at his disposal, Stewart relaxed for a few minutes before donning his Home Depot firesuit. He then walked toward the awaiting helicopter that would take him to Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After circling over the 1.5-mile facility, Stewart landed on the infield grass, arriving to driver introductions in grand fashion.
Back in familiar territory, Stewart met with his crew and climbed into his signature #20 Home Depot Pontiac. He had qualified 12th for the race, but had to start in 43rd position at the tail-end of the field for missing the mandatory driver's meeting. That proved to be a good thing.
On the opening lap, Stewart spun coming off turn three. He managed to keep it off the wall, and since no one was behind him, the fear of getting tagged by another competitor was negated.
"I'm way loose," said Stewart on the radio as he brought his machine to pit road. The only damage was a slightly pushed in front valance, but it was easily fixed during a series of visits to pit road after another caution period on lap 11. By the time the race restarted on lap 21, Stewart's car was as good as new.
With the sun still baking the race track, Stewart's car was still too loose for his liking. But he knew that having a loose race car now was best, for as the race progressed and darkness set in, his car would eventually tighten up.
As the sun went down, Stewart's performance level went up. By lap 180, made his way into the top-15 and by lap 265 he cracked the top-10. With 50 laps remaning in the 400-lap event, Stewart had the fastest car on the race track.
He picked off Dale Jarrett for fifth on lap 370, and eight laps later nabbed Jimmy Spencer for fourth. Stewart then set his sights on Mark Martin, making the pass for third on lap 387. The gap between Stewart and second-place Kevin Harvick was getting smaller, but so too was Stewart's window of opportunity. Time eventually ran out, with Jeff Burton taking the win followed by Harvick and Stewart.
Afterward Stewart was all smiles, standing next to his car while being flanked by crew chief Greg Zipadelli and certified athletic trainer Al Shuford. A deep half-circle of media engulfed Stewart, asking him how he felt after completing all 1,100 miles.
"Are there any dirt tracks we can run at tonight - catch the 'A' Main somewhere?" joked Stewart. "If there was, I'll tell you what, I'd go right now. I'm pretty pumped up. The doctor asked how I felt at the end, as far as sharpness, and I was like, 'I was the fastest car on the race track the last 30 laps.' I told him that I felt great in the car."
Another reason for Stewart to feel great is because his efforts raised $240,000 for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, a project being spearheaded by Kyle and Pattie Petty. Set to open in the fall of 2004, the Victory Junction Gang Camp will be a permanent, year-round center that will accommodate children with chronic and life-threatening diseases at no cost to the children or their families
"The best part of this deal isn't finishing sixth and finishing third," said Stewart. "The thing that makes me most proud right now is I ran 600 laps and we raised $240,000 tonight for the Victory Junction Gang Camp. That gave both of these races a purpose, rather than being something selfish that I wanted to do for my personal goals and my personal dreams. We were able to do something very productive tonight and help a lot of good kids that deserve this. It made me feel really good about this. That is probably what I'm most proud of today.
"I'm going to donate $60,000, Target Chip Ganassi Racing is going to donate $60,000, Joe Gibbs Racing is going to donate $60,000 and Home Depot is going to donate $60,000, plus I've had friends call me and say that they're going to send a couple hundred dollars too. Three or four different people have called saying that, so I'm not sure that a final number is locked in yet."
Also not locked in is a clear leader in the chase for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship. Dale Jarrett continues to lead the point standings, but Stewart is just 149 points back in sixth thanks to his performance in the Coca-Cola 600. Stewart will inevitably continue to chip away at that margin, as the two of the next three races on the schedule are races that Stewart won last season.
The chase for the championship continues June 3 at Dover (Del.) Downs International Speedway for the MBNA Platinum 400. The race, set to begin at 1 p.m. EDT, will be telecast live on FOX.