Stewart and Co. Earn Top-15 Result at Charlotte
Home Depot Racing Team Overcomes Tight Race Car and Comes From 31st to Finish 13th
Tony Stewart struggled with the handling of his No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet in practice and in qualifying for the Bank of America 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Charlotte (N.C.). But when the 334-lap race on the 1.5-mile oval concluded late Saturday night, Stewart had picked up 18 positions to log a respectable 13th-place finish after starting a distant 31st.
"All the credit goes to Greg," said Stewart, giving props to his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli. "I've been struggling here all weekend. I think part of it was because the last two times I left this track I left in an ambulance."
Stewart endured hard crashes in three straight races when the series visited Charlotte in May. Of the 690 total laps available for the All-Star race, the NASCAR Busch Series race and the Nextel race, Stewart completed only 114 of them. His crashes on consecutive days in the Busch Series race and in the Nextel Cup race sent Stewart to the hospital both times, the latter of which revealed a non-displaced fracture at the tip of his right scapula.
"With this tire combination, I just cannot get comfortable in practice, and then when it comes to the race, he (Zipadelli) has to get me so tight to where I'm comfortable driving the car that we're plowing the fence down," said Stewart of his car's handling characteristics. "But as the night went on, he made the car adjustable enough to where during parts of the race we ran some really good lap times.
"It was my fault that we were so slow the first half of the race. Everybody had to carry me for the first half. I give all the credit to Zippy for being able to make enough adjustments. And I think he knew that as the night went on we'd have to start freeing up the car. I give him the credit for making the car adjustable enough to get us where we needed to be."
The 13th-place finish was a worthy one considering that only 11 drivers in the 43-car field finished the race on the lead lap. Stewart and 12th-place Casey Mears were the only drivers one lap down. Every other driver was at least two or more laps off the pace set by the leaders.
"We worked hard tonight. The small fuel cells - as much as I dislike them - helped us because it gave us a lot of opportunities to work on our car," said Zipadelli, referring to the 14-gallon fuel cells NASCAR mandated for this year's races at Charlotte. "We just kept undoing all the things that we had done, but there were some things we couldn't get undone.
"Everybody on this Home Depot team did a good job. The pit stops were pretty good, because on every stop they were putting in spring rubbers and doing other things. Tony did a good job with his attitude all night, and that's key here because it's easy to get frustrated on this hard tire. It doesn't feel good and it's hard to pass cars.
"I wish we could've had an opportunity to get our lap back there, because I think we had a sixth- to 10th-place car. It's only a couple more spots, but you feel a little bit better about yourself when you do."
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished 28th and 29th, respectively. Both drivers were involved in accidents that curtailed their performances.
Hamlin was hit from behind in a nine-car accident on the frontstretch on just the second lap of the 334-lap race. Yeley encountered trouble much later in the race when on lap 242 he made contact with Mark Martin and then Robby Gordon in an attempt to come to pit road.
Hamlin's crew was able to make repairs and finish the race, albeit 69 laps down. Yeley's crew also made repairs following his incident, but after making a handful of laps, retired from the event.
Hamlin continues to lead the trio of JGR drivers in the championship point standings, as he is the lone JGR representative in the Chase for the Championship. Hamlin dropped one spot to sixth in points, 137 markers behind series leader Jeff Burton.
Stewart maintained his 11th-place point standing and holds a healthy 213-point lead over 12th-place Carl Edwards.
Yeley dropped one position to 28th in points and sits 251 points outside the top-25.
Kasey Kahne scored his seventh career Nextel Cup victory and his series-leading sixth win of the season by winning the Bank of America 500. The win gave him a sweep of this year's Nextel Cup races at Charlotte, as Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600 in May.
Jimmie Johnson finished second, while Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and former JGR driver Bobby Labonte secured the rest of the top-five. Kyle Busch, Tony Raines, Edwards, Joe Nemechek and Brian Vickers comprised the rest of the top-10.
With only five races remaining, the next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Oct. 22 Subway 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The race begins at 12:55 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by NBC.