Daytona Shootout: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart Rallies to Seventh in Final Laps of Shootout DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 7, 2004) - After spending much of the Budweiser Shootout looking at the 18 cars ahead of him, Home Depot Chevrolet driver Tony Stewart rallied to finish a solid ...

Stewart Rallies to Seventh in Final Laps of Shootout

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 7, 2004) - After spending much of the Budweiser Shootout looking at the 18 cars ahead of him, Home Depot Chevrolet driver Tony Stewart rallied to finish a solid seventh in the opening salvo of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season at Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart started the non-points, exhibition style race from 18th, with last year's Budweiser Shootout victor - Dale Earnhardt Jr. - to the inside of him in 19th. As soon as the green flag dropped, the two began drafting their way through the field. Stewart followed Earnhardt to seventh on just the fourth circuit, but that's as far as Stewart would get before he was shuffled out of the draft on lap 10. From there, he steadily dropped back - all the way to 19th by lap 12.

Stewart hung around at the back of the field, jockeying with Bill Elliott, Jeremy Mayfield and Dale Jarrett to finish 16th after the first 20-lap segment, which was won by Jamie McMurray. A mandatory 10-minute pit break followed, where teams were allowed to change tires, fill-up with fuel and make chassis adjustments.

The final 50-lap sprint saw Stewart fall to the back of the field again. "If someone gets under me, it just kills my speed," said Stewart in reference to his car's aerodynamics.

A pit stop had to be made before the checkered flag waved, as teams could not go the full 50 laps on a single tank of fuel. Stewart made his pit stop with 20 laps remaining in the 70-lap affair. Four tires and a can of fuel were added, while two rounds of wedge were removed from the right rear of The Home Depot Chevrolet. But the quick stop was nullified by a slow exit.

The gearing selected to run around Daytona's 2.5-mile oval meant that Stewart had to keep his engine revs high, or else he risked stalling the engine. But that's easier said than done when engaging first gear upon leaving one's pit stall. The #20 machine shuddered twice before adamantly coming to life. The delay, however brief, left Stewart out of the draft when the rest of the field returned to racing.

But Stewart soon gained a reprieve at other's misfortune. An accident on lap 60 at the beginning of the backstretch that involved the cars of Mayfield and Dave Blaney forced NASCAR officials to wave the red flag. Stewart, suffering a flat right rear tire from running over debris from the accident, was forced to pit early. His penalty? Tail end of the longest line when the race resumed. But the penalty proved positive, as Stewart was back amongst other competitors - and back in the draft - when racing resumed on lap 63.

"We had a car that wasn't very fast, but we were able to get in the right spot after the restart and got on the bottom. Guys kept moving up, and we stayed down on the bottom and picked a few of them off. Then I got hooked up with the '10' car (Mike Skinner) and found that I could suck up really good to his bumper and give him a good push. Every time I gave him a push we'd get underneath a car by running the bottom. Then when it would get two-wide, I'd just suck back up to the '10'. We did that for the last two or three laps and went from 17th to eighth in about five laps. Considering where we were, I'm pretty happy with that."

Aiding Stewart's charge was a two-car crash on the last lap that took out Ryan Newman and McMurray, and a NASCAR decision to penalize Skinner for driving below the yellow line. That penalty dropped Skinner from seventh to 15th, allowing Stewart to inherit the seventh spot.

Winning the Budweiser Shootout was Jarrett. The veteran Robert Yates Racing driver scored his third Shootout victory, with his two previous wins serving as precursors to victories in the Daytona 500 (1996 and 2000). Finishing second was Earnhardt, while Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon rounded-out the top-five.

Next up for Stewart and Co. is Nextel Cup qualifying, which will set the front row for the Daytona 500. That gets underway tomorrow at 12:10 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by NBC. The Gatorade Twin 125s, which will set the rest of the field, follow on Thurs., Feb. 12 with live coverage by TNT beginning at 1 p.m. All of this culminates with the Daytona 500 on Sun., Feb. 15 at 1:30 p.m., which can also be seen live on NBC.

-jgr-

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Mike Skinner , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Jamie McMurray , Robert Yates , Dave Blaney , Mark Martin