Stewart third at Charlotte, extends point lead. CONCORD, N.C., (Oct. 13, 2002) - It wasn't a win, but Tony Stewart's third-place finish in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was certainly satisfying. The Home Depot Pontiac...
Stewart third at Charlotte, extends point lead.
CONCORD, N.C., (Oct. 13, 2002) - It wasn't a win, but Tony Stewart's third-place finish in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was certainly satisfying. The Home Depot Pontiac driver extended his lead in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings to 97 markers over nearest pursuer Jimmie Johnson.
Stewart started the rain-delayed event from the pole, as wet weather washed out Thursday's qualifying session, forcing NASCAR to set the field via car owner points. Stewart took full advantage of the front row starting spot, pacing the field for the first 16 laps.
But as the race wore on, Stewart's #20 machine became increasingly tight, prompting Stewart to say, "This thing is pushing like a dump truck." Crew chief Greg Zipadelli began to remedy the situation, making a wedge adjustment on the team's first pit stop on lap 62. Progress was made, but the tight handling condition persisted. Zipadelli called for track bar adjustments on the second and third stops of the night, respectively on laps 126 and 138, thereby pointing the orange and black attack in the right direction.
The dump truck-like feel of his race car had dropped Stewart to 10th in the running order, but the changes made by The Home Depot over-the-wall-crew allowed Stewart to climb back to fifth by lap 162.
On longer runs however, Stewart was still too tight. Despite dropping back in the running order again, the trouble-shooting and mechanical mind of Zipadelli continued to work , as wedge adjustments during scheduled pit stops on lap 207 and 223 soon returned Stewart to the top-five.
Following a restart on lap 243, Stewart picked off those ahead of him. He passed Matt Kenseth for fourth on lap 244 and Rusty Wallace for third on lap 255. And when his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate - Bobby Labonte - pitted on lap 274 for a flat tire, Stewart took over second. Stewart reasserted himself as the leader on lap 285, as rookie Jamie McMurray relinquished the lead for his final pit stop. Stewart circled the 1.5-mile oval for the next six circuits before making his last stop as well.
"This is the best the car has been," radioed Stewart. It was good timing, as less than 50 laps remained in the 334-lap race. Stewart had his eyes on the win, but eventually realized that the Pontiac of his teammate and the Dodge of McMurray were stronger than he. McMurray took the win with Labonte in tow, while Stewart rounded out the top-three with Jeff Gordon and Wallace crossing the stripe in fourth and fifth, respectively.
"We did everything that we could do," said Stewart. "We stayed ahead of everybody who is right near us in points. If we can't win the race each week, we'll take the best finish we can and hope that we get more points than the rest of 'em. We stuck to our game plan."
Stewart's 97-point lead is over Johnson, a rookie who leapfrogged Mark Martin for second in points. Johnson finished sixth to Martin's 16th, dropping Martin to third, 122 points arrears Stewart. Fellow rookie Ryan Newman is fourth in points, 165 points back. Rounding out the top-five is Wallace, still winless on the season, 182 points down.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Oct. 20 Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Live coverage by NBC begins at 12:30 p.m. EDT.