Bristol wreckfest leaves Stewart 23rd BRISTOL, Tenn., (Aug. 23, 2003) - Twenty cautions for 119 laps in Saturday night's Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway meant that virtually every car in the 43-car field finished with some sort of...
Bristol wreckfest leaves Stewart 23rd
BRISTOL, Tenn., (Aug. 23, 2003) - Twenty cautions for 119 laps in Saturday night's Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway meant that virtually every car in the 43-car field finished with some sort of damage - if they even finished at all. Tony Stewart's #20 Home Depot Chevrolet was no different, as it was punted into the turn three wall by the Chevrolet of Joe Nemechek on lap 160. Stewart managed to do what eight other drivers could not - finish the 500-lap wreckfest - soldiering home to a 23rd place result.
Stewart's night began from his 18th place starting position, and he kept his race car clean through the race's first five caution periods, running just outside the top-10. But when Casey Mears spun in turn three on the 160th circuit of the .533-mile oval, a quick chain of events sent Stewart into the wall. As Mears spun, those directly behind him checked up. Stewart wooed the #20 machine down, but directly behind him was Nemechek, whose reflexes weren't as quick. The nose of Nemechek's Chevrolet made hard contact with Stewart's rear bumper, whipping The Home Depot Chevrolet backward into the wall.
Stewart came to pit road with heavy right side damage, whereupon the Greg Zipadelli-led crew went to work. Numerous pit stops were made in an effort to avoid losing any more laps than were necessary, but it was clear that the #20 ride Stewart had at the beginning of the race was not the same car he had now. "This thing is bent all to hell," radioed Stewart soon after the race returned to green.
However blunt, Stewart's observation was right on target. No matter how many chassis adjustments the crew made on subsequent pit stops, the car was a handful, always wanting to jump sideways through the corners. "I'm loose on entry and loose on exit," said Stewart. "I think we're beating our heads against a wall. There's just stuff that's bent on this car that we can't fix."
With 225 laps still remaining, the crew continued to work on the car, trying anything they could to make Stewart's duties slightly more bearable. That's all they could do, for gaining any positions was not possible. Stewart was on a lap all his own, three laps down to the leader in 28th position.
When the race's 13th caution came out on lap 300, Stewart said what everyone along pit road was thinking: "Running around all night in second gear is just stupid." During the race's next caution on lap 311, Stewart used the downtime to pit for nothing but an ice cold Coca-Cola. When you're on a lap all your own, you can do things like that.
On the race's 19th caution, Stewart asked, "Is this thing over yet?"
Zipadelli responded, "Fifty-five laps to go. You'll be done in a minute."
"It's going to take an hour and a half at the rate we're going," replied Stewart.
Thankfully Stewart's prediction did not come true, as 20 minutes later the race mercifully ended. Stewart's 23rd place finish maintained his 11th place standing in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings, as he now sits 26 points out of the top-10 and 783 points arrears series leader Matt Kenseth.
Winning the Sharpie 500 was Kurt Busch, who scored his eighth career victory and his fourth of the season. Finishing second was Kevin Harvick, while Jamie McMurray, Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Aug. 31 Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Live coverage by NBC begins at 1 p.m. EDT.