STEWART KEEPS COOL DESPITE OVERHEATING PROBLEM FORT WORTH, Texas, June 6, 1998 - Tony Stewart drove faster Saturday night than anyone ever had with a non-turbocharged race car, yet all it got him was another frustrating finish sitting in...
STEWART KEEPS COOL DESPITE OVERHEATING PROBLEM
FORT WORTH, Texas, June 6, 1998 - Tony Stewart drove faster Saturday night than anyone ever had with a non-turbocharged race car, yet all it got him was another frustrating finish sitting in the pits while his mechanics tried to fix a split in the water tank on the radiator.
Still, both he and Team Menard's manager Larry Curry were able to find some glimmers of well-being in a disappointing outcome in the Glidden-Menards Special Dallara/Aurora/Firestone.
Instead of battling Billy Boat, winner of the True Value 500, right down to the final circuit of the 208-lap race at Texas Motor Speedway, Stewart's race ended in the pits after 176 laps of torrid driving.
Stewart led seven times for 57 laps. He also soared around the 1½-mile oval on Lap 86 at 228.012 mph. That is 3.564 mph faster than the 224.448 that he turned Friday while winning the pole. He recorded a 225.696-mph lap during post-qualification practice that same day, which set a Pep Boys Indy Racing League unofficial record for the 18-month old Aurora and Nissan normally aspirated engines.
"I'm not happy that we dropped out," Stewart said, "but I'm happy we're back on track. We're running well again. We had as good a shot as anybody."
Said Curry: "The good news for us is we needed to have a good finish for Robbie Buhl (Stewart's teammate). Robbie has been having the back luck. Robbie got a top-10 finish tonight (sixth) so there is a bright side."
Despite his 14th-place finish, Stewart earned enough points to slip into a tie for first in the Pep Boys IRL point standings with fifth-place finisher Scott Sharp at 115.
Stewart fought back the ache in his stomach and presented a cool demeanor after the race. But it was tough.
"It's part of racing," he sighed.
He then gave a little caustic laugh and continued.
"I'd like to act down (emotionally) like I did at Indy, because that's how I feel inside. But I don't want everybody calling me a crybaby and everything else. Literally, it is part of racing."
Stewart's hot lap came as he made his second comeback from a drop to last place caused by an unexpected pit stop.
"The car was great," he said. "Anytime you run around a track wide open, and you get some cars you can get a tow off of, you're going to run quicker than you qualified. That wasn't unexpected on our part. We ran faster in the race last year than we qualified so I think we expected all that and everybody else did too."
Stewart's troubles started early, amazingly while leading on yellow following a six-car crash on the backstretch. Following behind the Pace Car, his car ran over a piece of metal in the accident area, cutting a right rear tire.
The wheels on his car all had air sensors. Curry read on the monitor that the right rear was losing pressure and called in Stewart to change the tires. Stewart said he is pleased that the IRL allows use of the air sensors, because he feels it prevented a possible crash later.
When racing resumed, Stewart began a cavalry charge from the rear that took him to the front.
"It was fun," he said. "You've got a couple of drivers who aren't respecting other drivers, but the group as a whole did a really good job. Everyone gave each other space "And it was obvious everyone had spotters who worked with them. I had a friend who works for the IWX truck team. He stayed over. He used to be a crew chief for Andy Michner in the midgets, and he spotted for me and did a great job. It was a big ease off my mind not to worry about what was going on in my mirrors as much as I used to have to."
Stewart led for the last time on Lap 158. He said that Boat indicated he wanted to lead and let him by, but a lap or so later the car began to overheat. Smoke poured out of the rear of his car as he completed Lap 176, and he headed for the pits. He sat in the car for a while as mechanics worked on the engine, then climbed out and sat on the pit wall, helmet in hand, while they turned their attention to the left side pod where the radiator is located. Finally, they called it quits. "The tank on the water radiator," Curry said. "Split it open just like you'd open a can, let all of the water out, and that was that. It was frustrating tonight because we had a barrage of problems."
The cut tire was first. Then came a loss of radio communication to race control that resulted in missing an open pit situation, which put the team out of sync with the lead group. At 170 laps the telemetry told Curry the water temperature was climbing.
"You hope for the best," he said. "You think, maybe he's got some paper in the radiator. We called him in, cleaned it out and sent him back out. He was running second, but the water temperature just kept going to the moon."
Stewart said he had to take his hat off to his engine-building team, who bounced back from the blown engine at Indy that took him out while leading the Indianapolis 500.
"I don't know what caused the overheating problem, but I think part of it was that I stayed behind Boat as long as I did," Stewart said. "It's just part of racing … I guess."
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