BRISTOL SERVES BITTER PILL TO STEWART AND CO. Home Depot Driver Leads Race-High 257 Laps, but Finishes 35th For the first half and then some of Sunday's Food City 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart...
BRISTOL SERVES BITTER PILL TO STEWART AND CO.
Home Depot Driver Leads Race-High 257 Laps, but Finishes 35th
For the first half and then some of Sunday's Food City 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart was performing his own rendition of the Bristol Stomp. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) had led four times for a race-high 257 laps, with his nearest pursuers resigned to the fact they were running for second.
But misfortune struck the No. 20 machine on lap 289 when the fuel pump cable broke. With no fuel pressure, the engine shut off, forcing Stewart to come to pit road. Crew members were able to replace the cable, but the process was lengthy. The two-time Nextel Cup champion was able to return to the 504-lap race, albeit 25 laps down.
After dominating the race, Stewart was forced to simply ride around to the finish, where he posted a gut-wrenching 35th-place result.
"The guys worked real hard, because we didn't have a really good test here," said crew chief Greg Zipadelli, referring to the team's test session at the .533-mile oval in early March. "I'm proud of everybody. They kept their chins up and came back here tough and we brought back a really good race car. But, we don't have anything to show for it. We'll go to Martinsville next week and try to have a better race."
The Home Depot team's JGR brethren also endured a disappointing day at Bristol.
Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Chevrolet, appeared ready to lead the JGR contingent at Bristol after Stewart's troubles. Hamlin led twice for 177 laps and was poised to take his first win of the season and the third of his career, but a fuel problem similar to Stewart's forced him to relinquish the lead on lap 485. In the remaining 20 laps, Hamlin massaged his car to a 14th-place result.
J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Chevrolet, finished 36th. He too suffered problems, for after leading nine laps experienced mechanical woes on lap 120 when his engine's exhaust header needed repairs that necessitated a prolonged stint behind the wall. Yeley returned to the race on lap 150 and finished 29 laps off the pace.
JGR cars led 443 laps of the 504 laps available in the Food City 500 (88.6 percent), but posted an average finish of 28th.
Hamlin is now the lead JGR driver in the championship point race. His 14th-place finish dropped him one spot to ninth in the standings, 185 points behind new series leader Jeff Gordon. Stewart and Yeley occupy the 12th and 15th positions, respectively. Stewart dropped six spots, while Yeley fell three positions. Stewart is 216 points arrears Gordon and Yeley is 269 points back.
Kyle Busch won the Food City 500 to score his fourth career Nextel Cup victory and his first at Bristol. The win also earned Chevrolet its 600th all-time NASCAR victory and the first for the Impala brand since Wendell Scott won in an Impala on Dec. 1, 1963 at Jacksonville (Fla.) Speedway.