Stewart's Second in 125 Gets Him Fifth for 500 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 12, 2004) - Tony Stewart finished second in his Gatorade 125-mile qualifying race, allowing the driver of the ...
Stewart's Second in 125 Gets Him Fifth for 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 12, 2004) - Tony Stewart finished second in his Gatorade 125-mile qualifying race, allowing the driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet to start fifth for Sunday's Daytona 500.
It was a welcome reprieve from what had been a frustrating Speedweeks, with Stewart and Co. struggling to find speed during last Sunday's qualifying session and in the practices leading up to the Gatorade Twin 125s.
"We didn't have a second-place car, but we got it up there," said Stewart. "These guys aren't going to quit working on this thing. We're going to keep making it better. This car drove well. That's what's beating these other guys. We aren't beating them under the hood. These guys have worked really hard on this chassis and on the body of this car to make it go. A lot of guys are having to lift and a lot of guys are having to run in places where we don't normally run, which is making it fun. We actually have to drive these cars for once instead of just riding them around like we've done in the past. The good drivers are going to get themselves to the front."
And that's just what Stewart did. After starting the 50-lap sprint from 19th in the 23-car field, Stewart methodically worked his way toward the front. By lap 15 he was eighth, and prior to pitting during the race's only caution period on lap 22, he was seventh. The quick, four-tire pit stop performed by The Home Depot Racing Team earned Stewart another spot, as he was sixth when the race restarted on lap 28.
With Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, Ward Burton and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte amongst him, Stewart picked his way to fourth by lap 34. And by riding the bumper of the ever-fast Earnhardt, Stewart slipped his way into the runner-up spot on lap 43.
When the pack crossed the finish line, it was Earnhardt and Stewart in a group all their own, with McMurray, Waltrip and Jeff Burton rounding out the top-five. Labonte, Kurt Busch, rookie Brendan Gaughan, Ward Burton and rookie Johnny Sauter filled-out the rest of the top-10.
"Even if we had guys behind us, we weren't going to get by the No. 8 (Earnhardt)," said Stewart. "He was tough today. He was by far the class of the field again. We've been so slow all week, it's nice just to get into the top-two here. You've got to rely on so many people to do anything here that it's hard to get a good finish. Today, we're finally seeing a situation where handling is coming back into the equation. Guys who have good driving cars and who are figuring out how to get runs on people can actually pass and do something with them.
"I think we're finally in a situation where guys can race. I'm somewhat excited for the rest of the week. I still don't feel like I'm in any better position today than I was yesterday. But at least for the race, the drivers can actually drive and decide who wins the race by who out-drives whom."
The winner of the other Gatorade Twin 125 race was Elliott Sadler.
With the Gatorade Twin 125s having been decided, the field for the Daytona 500 is set. On the pole is Greg Biffle, and alongside him is Sadler. By notching the two quickest times during time trials, both drivers were able to lock themselves into position for the Daytona 500. All the remaining drivers, however, had to race their way to a starting spot in today's Twin 125s.
Those who didn't make the cut and will be forced to watch the Daytona 500 from the sidelines are Kirk Shelmerdine and Andy Hillenburg.
The green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Sun., Feb. 15 at 1:30 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by NBC.