Dover II: Tony Stewart race report

Stout run at Dover still leaves Stewart sour Finishes third after leading twice for 97 Laps, moves to 10th in Points DOVER, Del., (Sept. 21, 2003) - Tony Stewart drove his ...

Stout run at Dover still leaves Stewart sour
Finishes third after leading twice for 97 Laps, moves to 10th in Points

DOVER, Del., (Sept. 21, 2003) - Tony Stewart drove his #20 Home Depot Chevrolet to a strong third-place finish in the MBNA America 400 at Dover International Speedway, logging his first top-10 since finishing third at Michigan, five races ago.

Dover's one-mile oval has proven to be Stewart's best track during his four-and-a-half years in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, with two wins and an average finish of fourth during his nine previous starts. Stewart added to those statistics on Sunday, leading twice for 97 laps before notching his seventh top-five finish of the season.

But Stewart was far from happy with his third-place result, despite the fact that it moved him from 11th to 10th in the championship point standings, just three markers behind ninth-place Terry Labonte.

Stewart looked to be the class of the field with less than 80 laps remaining in the 400-lap race. He had led 83 circuits before coming to pit road during the race's sixth caution period, taking four tires and fuel with the only chassis adjustment being a removal of a half-pound of air pressure from the right rear tire.

The caution was very much needed, for as fast as The Home Depot Chevrolet was, it was equally thirsty. Had the race gone green, Stewart's fuel mileage would've left him four laps short of the checkered flag. But as much as the #20 team needed that pit stop, it proved to be their undoing.

The stop was plenty quick and there were no miscues. Stewart restarted the race third, with Ryan Newman in the lead after he opted to stay out. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second via his decision to take only two tires. Stewart, of course, was third, the first of those who opted for four tires.

Unfortunately, those tires proved far different from the ones Stewart used to lead with just laps earlier. "The back end is dancing all around," yelled Stewart over the radio, a far cry from the slightly tight handling condition experienced during the previous 330 laps.

With Stewart falling further back from race leader Newman, the day's final caution on lap 365 gave Stewart the opportunity to swap his tires for a brand new set.

The unscheduled trip to pit road relegated Stewart to 12th in the running order, but with 28 laps remaining when the race restarted, there was still time to make up lost ground.

Stewart did just that, slicing his way through the field. But after passing Kevin Harvick for third with just three laps remaining, time ran out on the reigning Winston Cup champion. The checkered flag waved, with Newman scoring his seventh win of the season over second-place Jeremy Mayfield. Behind Stewart in fourth was Harvick, while Jeff Gordon rounded-out the top-five.

"It's just disappointing to have a car as strong as we had and come in and put four tires on and be terrible - be four, five or six-tenths off of what we were running before," said crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "It's hard to ask somebody to get in there and drive their tail off for 400 laps and have that happen and expect them to be happy about it. It's hard and it's frustrating.

"I don't believe it was done intentionally, but it's still hard to just shrug it off and say, 'Oh well, that was the luck of the draw.' I feel like it single-handedly cost us the win today."

"We had a great car, particularly at the end," added team owner Joe Gibbs. "We fell off at the next-to-the-last stop just enough that we felt like we weren't going to have a chance. We were probably going to wind up third. We decided to pit, which we knew was going to put us back at least 10 spots. It wound up putting us back 12 spots. Tony fought his way all the way back up to third. It's just one of those days where things didn't go well for us at the right time. I thought we had a real good car."

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Sept. 28 EA SPORTS 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Live coverage by NBC begins at 2 p.m. EDT.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman