Tony Stewart was a contender early in Saturday night's NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge non-points event at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, but a crash on lap 72 sent Stewart to an early exit. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet...
Tony Stewart was a contender early in Saturday night's NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge non-points event at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, but a crash on lap 72 sent Stewart to an early exit.
The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet started eighth and led laps 18-19 during the first 40-lap segment of the three-part, 90-lap race. When the first segment ended, Stewart was second, meaning that for the second, 30-lap segment, Stewart would start ninth as the top-10 finishers from the first segment were inverted for the second segment.
It was there where Stewart's race began to unravel.
A spin by Michael Waltrip on lap 45 set up a restart on lap 48. There, while coming off turn two, Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin tangled at the front of the field, setting off a chain reaction wreck that collected Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Jeremy Mayfield and Stewart.
Crew chief Greg Zipadelli and The Home Depot crew patched together Stewart's #20 machine well enough for it to return to the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval. With tape and pop rivets on all four corners of the orange and black Chevy Monte Carlo, Stewart charged to a remarkable third with an impressive three-wide pass off turn two.
A tight handling race car would eventually allow Carl Edwards to catch Stewart, with Stewart having to settle for fourth when the second, 30-lap segment ended.
With no inversion for the final, 20-lap segment, Stewart was in prime position to log a podium finish, and if the breaks went his way, a win.
But just two laps into the final segment, Stewart and Matt Kenseth crashed in between turns one and two while racing for third.
With a run on Kenseth going through the tri-oval, Stewart put the fender of his Home Depot Chevrolet to the inside of Kenseth's quarterpanel. Stewart held his line through the corner while Kenseth pinched him low. The two made contact and crashed into the turn two wall. Both cars limped back to the garage area, too damaged to continue.
Kenseth was credited with 11th while Stewart was slotted in 12th.
"At the finish line I could see that Tony was getting a run and I was gonna try to stay on the bottom," said Kenseth. "I came across the second part of the tri-oval, I thought on the grass, and right before we got to the corner (my spotter) told me he was looking inside. And as soon as he said that I moved up, but we made contact and I got turned around, so I don't know. Maybe he was a way in there and I squeezed him off. I didn't think he could have got in there that good to have that good of a run, but he must have.
"If he was under there and I cut him off and made a mistake, then I made a mistake. There's nothing else I can do about it right now."
"I had a pretty definitive view from what I saw," said Stewart. "I got a run on him like he said. I got to see the replay, and you could see where they start the camera view that he's a whole lane-and-a-half low. You know, you don't go in the corner that way. So, obviously he's blocking there. But it's the Nextel All-Star crashfest. I think he screwed up on this one. If he thinks I did that and that was my fault, he's screwed up in the head."
Jimmie Johnson won the All-Star Challenge for the second time in his career. Kevin Harvick finished second, while Jeff Gordon, Edwards and Ryan Newman rounded out the rest of the top-five. Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Scott Riggs comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Winning the 30-lap Nextel Open - the undercard race to the All-Star Challenge - to advance into the All-Star Challenge was Riggs. Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - also competed in the Nextel Open. They finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the May 28 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Live coverage of the race begins at 5:30 p.m. EDT on FOX.