Kansas: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart Gets a Charge Out of Kansas Finish Home Depot Racing Team Overcomes Tight Car to Finish Fourth, Increase Point Lead KANSAS CITY, Kan., (Oct. 9, 2005) - Sunday's Banquet 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway produced...

Stewart Gets a Charge Out of Kansas Finish

Home Depot Racing Team Overcomes Tight Car to Finish Fourth, Increase Point Lead

KANSAS CITY, Kan., (Oct. 9, 2005) - Sunday's Banquet 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway produced a fourth-place finish for Tony Stewart and the #20 Home Depot Racing Team, but it wasn't as easy as it might have looked at the 1.5-mile oval.

Starting ninth, Stewart ran in the top-10 for the first 98 laps, slowly working on a car that was too loose at the start of a run and too tight at the end. Then the fun started.

The alternator belt came off the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet, which drained the battery. After much discussion - including a couple of hurried phone calls back to the shop - it was decided that Stewart would stay out and race with backup battery power only. When the primary began to drain, Stewart quickly switched to the backup battery and the amp meter stabilized.

However, when he switched to the backup, it meant he had to turn off all his cooling fans, for the brakes, the rear end and his own air conditioner.

"That made us build more front air pressure a little quicker than we wanted," said a tired Stewart after the race. "Late in a run, when everybody was getting their cars better, it was hard for us to keep up with them."

By the time the worry about the battery and the loose-tight race car subsided, Stewart had settled into the top-five and ran comfortably there the rest of the day. With 100 laps remaining, he was camped on leader Mark Martin's bumper and staying put in second-place. On lap 179, Martin peeled off to make a green-flag pit stop, and Stewart led lap 180 to pick up five valuable bonus points.

With 30 laps remaining, Stewart was again on Martin's bumper, but The Home Depot Chevrolet was starting to get tighter and tighter. In the remaining 30 laps, Stewart gave up spots to fellow Chase competitors Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards and wound up fourth at the finish.

The finish, combined with a 26th-place finish for second-place Chaser Ryan Newman, saw Stewart's point lead jump from four coming into the race to 75 heading into Charlotte (N.C.) next week.

"That wasn't too bad for a car that was just a little off," said Stewart. "We had a setback in practice the other day and that got us off a little, but the guys rebounded really well. We had an alternator belt come off early and that meant we had to switch off all the brake fans, the ones that blow cool air on the bead of the tire to keep the tires cool. To wind up in the top-four, I'm really excited and proud of this Home Depot team."

The same alternator problem, or something similar, struck Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte, who finished 39th.

"They didn't say anything to me (about the similar problem with Labonte's car), but I'm sure they were in communication with Greg (Zipadelli, crew chief)," said Stewart. "What always happens with one team car doesn't always happen to the other, but today it was the same thing for both cars. I don't know if it happened with the 11 (32nd place finisher Denny Hamlin) or not. It was just one of those weird things that happened. We've had some alternator trouble this year, but here recently we've had it under control. I thought we were back to having a problem, but it was kind of comforting knowing that we just threw a belt today. If that's the worst thing, we've got it made."

Despite the fact that Stewart remained the Chase point leader, he was quick to state the obvious.

"If we can keep running in the top-five like this, that's what we need to do," he said. "Like I've always told people, there are no guarantees. Everybody wants to talk points every week, but the easiest way to put this in perspective is this - we're not even halfway through the schedule these last 10 weeks, so it would be like talking about points after race 16 of a 36-race season. There's a long way to go yet. As much as we want to talk about right now, the big thing is to make sure we keep focusing on the things we need to do to keep us in the top five-every week. With a week or two to go, we'll talk about the points."

Mark Martin won the Banquet 400 to score his first point victory of the season and the 35th of his Nextel Cup career. Greg Biffle finished second, while Carl Edwards, Stewart and Matt Kenseth rounded-out the rest of the top-five. Comprising the remainder of the top-10 were Jimmie Johnson, Rusty Wallace, Casey Mears, Ricky Rudd and Jeff Gordon.

Live coverage of next week's UAW-GM Quality 500 begins at 7 p.m. EDT on NBC.

-jgr-

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Series NASCAR-CUP