Sixteenth not sweet for Stewart. BROOKLYN, Mich., (June 16, 2002) - Tony Stewart found himself in unfamiliar territory in Sunday's Sirius Satellite Radio 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The driver of the ...
Sixteenth not sweet for Stewart.
BROOKLYN, Mich., (June 16, 2002) - Tony Stewart found himself in unfamiliar territory in Sunday's Sirius Satellite Radio 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac finished a respectable but distant 16th in the 200-lap affair, one lap down to race winner Matt Kenseth.
Stewart started 10th, picked up three positions at the start, but began dropping in the running order by the 10th circuit of the two-mile oval. "The car is tight in and loose off (the corner)," said Stewart over the radio to crew chief Greg Zipadelli.
Stewart fell out of the top-10 on lap 31 after being passed by John Andretti, and continued to get more exasperated as the laps clicked off and he dropped more spots.
On the team's first pit stop under green on lap 47, the track bar was lowered one round and a spring rubber was pulled from the right rear. With four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel, Stewart rejoined the race.
Despite the adjustments, the #20 machine was still skittish. "It's loose more than anything," said Stewart. "The whole car needs grip. It's like it's on top of the race track. It won't stick."
The second pit stop of the day brought about more changes, with a round of wedge being removed from both the left and right rear corners of The Home Depot Pontiac. New tires were added, as were two cans of fuel, but it all seemed for naught when a caution caught Stewart in the pits.
Andretti had brushed the turn three wall and NASCAR put out the yellow for debris.
"There's not a thing on this race track!" yelled Stewart over the radio as he returned to the race track knowing that the untimely caution had put him a lap down. Adding insult to injury was NASCAR informing Zipadelli four laps after completing their pit stop that they were caught speeding on pit road and that Stewart would have to go to the tail end of the longest line.
"Why didn't they tell us earlier?" barked Zipadelli over the radio, to no one in particular. "We could've at least worked on our car!"
As it was, the race restarted on lap 103 and Stewart was mired in 25th.
Stewart was obviously annoyed by the turn of events, and Zipadelli was forced to trade his mechanic hat for the one of "coach." While a win was out of the question, a respectable top-15 effort was available, and Zipadelli and Stewart worked hard to achieve just that.
Stewart broke into the top-20 on lap 122, and another chassis adjustment during a pit stop on lap 140 allowed Stewart to climb to 17th.
With not enough fuel to go the distance, a splash-and-go stop was made on lap 190. Scott Crowell, filling in as gas man for the ailing Jeff "Gooch" Patterson, made sure that the three seconds Stewart spent on pit road were worth it. Not a drop of gas was spilled, and Stewart was set to the finish.
Stewart made his way past Hut Stricklin for 16th and then set his sights on 15th place Ricky Craven. Try as he might, Craven was out of reach, even with the help of a late race red flag that bunched the field together for a three-lap dash to the finish. Craven held his ground and Stewart settled for 16th.
His finish in round 15 of the 36-race NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule dropped Stewart one spot in the championship point standings to seventh, but actually improved the point margin between himself and series leader Sterling Marlin. Marlin's 21st place finish in the Sirius Satellite Radio 400 cut the deficit between him and Stewart from 244 to 229 points.
Leapfrogging Stewart in points was race winner Kenseth, who actually jumped two positions to fifth.
Following Kenseth to the line in second was last weekend's race winner Dale Jarrett, who scored his first win of the 2002 campaign at Pocono (Pa.). Rookie Ryan Newman slotted in at third, with a resurgent Michael Waltrip crossing the stripe in the fourth position. Reigning Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, still winless in 2002, rounded out the top-five.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the June 23 Dodge/Save Mart 350k at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Live coverage by FOX begins at 3 p.m. EDT.