Darlington: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart takes tenth at Darlington. DARLINGTON, S.C., (March 16, 2003) - NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Tony Stewart came from 28th on the grid to land his fourth top-10 finish of the season with a solid 10th place effort in the Carolina ...

Stewart takes tenth at Darlington.

DARLINGTON, S.C., (March 16, 2003) - NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Tony Stewart came from 28th on the grid to land his fourth top-10 finish of the season with a solid 10th place effort in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet maintained his second-place standing in the championship point chase, as he is now 57 markers arrears series leader Matt Kenseth.

It was a well-earned finish at a track notorious for inflicting pain and misfortune upon those who tempt fate. Stewart was one of many drivers who did not emerge from the 1.366-mile oval unscathed, as he slapped the wall in between turns one and two on lap 41 while trying to overtake seventh-place Kurt Busch.

"I had a really good car until I got up in the fence in one and two," said Stewart. "I probably should've just tried to give myself a little bit of extra room there the first couple of laps. I thought I did, but evidently not on that lap. When I got up close to the wall, it really took off up the hill."

The right front fender of Stewart's Chevrolet hit the concrete retaining wall hard, and it wasn't until the exit off turn two where Stewart was finally able to get the #20 machine righted. Other than knocking the front end geometry slightly out of alignment and having some sheet metal rub the tire, the hit was relatively minor.

"It's a little tight now," said Stewart over the radio about his car's handling characteristics. "I've hurt it a little bit."

Despite piloting a slightly injured race car, Stewart maintained his eighth-place position. When the caution flag waved on lap 69 for a spinning Ward Burton, crew chief Greg Zipadelli called Stewart to the pits. Four tires and fuel were added while crew members pulled away the crinkled sheet metal from the right front wheel. Stewart headed back onto the race track only to return to the pits the following lap. There, crew members checked the front-end alignment, and corrected it with a wedge adjustment in the left rear corner of the race car.

The two trips to pit road dropped Stewart all the way to 32nd when the race restarted on lap 74. But Stewart was still quick, cracking the top-20 by lap 100. Savvy driving brought Stewart to 15th by lap 163, and with the help of some quick pit work following a caution on lap 191, Stewart jumped to seventh when racing resumed on lap 196.

Stewart stayed in the top-10, but a Home Depot Chevrolet that was just too tight thwarted his efforts to move up. Instead, Stewart had to play defense for the remainder of the 293-lap race. It was a noble effort, as only Mark Martin, Kenseth and Bill Elliott were able to get by Stewart, allowing the reigning Winston Cup champion to take the checkered flag in 10th.

"We fought back and got another top-10," said Stewart. "It's not what we wanted by any means. But going into the race, that was the best car I've ever had here. So, I'm looking forward to coming back here in August. I feel like we've got a good shot to run up front again."

The checkered flag proved to be an extremely hot commodity in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, as the 75,000 estimated fans in attendance witnessed the closest finish in NASCAR history since margins were first scored electronically, which was at Sonoma (Calif.) in 1993.

Ricky Craven edged out Busch by .002 seconds as the two raced to the line door-to-door with sheet metal crunching and tire smoke flying. It was an incredible finish by all accounts, one that will surely make many a highlight reel. For Craven, it highlighted his second career Winston Cup triumph, as his first victory came at Martinsville (Va.) in October 2001, 47 races ago. For Busch, his second-place effort - while bittersweet - marked his third top-five finish of the year and brought him from 13th to eighth in the championship point standings.

Coming through the smoke in third was Dave Blaney, who posted a career-best finish, while Martin and Michael Waltrip took fourth and fifth, respectively.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the March 23 Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Live coverage by FOX begins at 1 p.m. EST.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Bill Elliott , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kurt Busch , Ricky Craven , Dave Blaney , Mark Martin