TOP-10 AS GOOD AS A WIN AT LAS VEGAS Tony Stewart Finishes Seventh on Tricky Track Finishing Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a straight race car and a respectable result was the...
TOP-10 AS GOOD AS A WIN AT LAS VEGAS
Tony Stewart Finishes Seventh on Tricky Track
Finishing Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a straight race car and a respectable result was the goal for Tony Stewart and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team. The team succeeded, finishing seventh and completing all 267 laps with a car they'll quickly refurbish and take to Atlanta, the next stop on the Nextel Cup circuit.
With a rock-hard tire to roll along Las Vegas' freshly paved 1.5-mile oval, finding grip proved to be as elusive as finding a winning slot machine.
Numerous crashes in practice and in qualifying for the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 put drivers and teams on notice that racing at the new Las Vegas Motor Speedway would prove to be a dicey proposition. Nine caution periods for 40 laps -- including six caution periods in the race's first 120 laps -- brought that point home.
Despite liking neither the tire compound chosen by Goodyear nor the reconfigured layout of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Stewart buckled into his No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet and then buckled down.
With a car that was tight from the center of the track's 20-degree corners to when he planted his foot back on the gas off the corners, Stewart showcased his dirt track racing pedigree by climbing from his 25th-place starting spot to cracking the top-10 by lap 140. And while he was never a threat to win, Stewart was targeting the next best thing -- a solid finish that came with a solid accumulation of points. He got both, as his seventh-place effort bumped him up eight positions to 13th in the championship point standings.
How did he do it?
"You just had to be a lot more cautious than normal," said Stewart. "You knew that if you pushed too hard and got over the edge that it was going to cost you. Just look at how many guys early in the race were wrecked. It was just one of those days where you had to be very, very careful because of the circumstances. You raced as hard as you could with what you had. Everybody did that. I went as hard as I could go without crashing."
Aiding Stewart's day was the trepidation of the 42 other drivers competing in the race.
"With the exception of a couple of guys, all the drivers did a great job of give-and-take," said Stewart. "It wasn't just in situations with me. I could see situations in front of me and behind me where everybody was giving each other room and trying to be courteous to each another. I think the drivers made the best out of a bad situation here."
Thankfully for Stewart, there's only one stop at Las Vegas on the Nextel Cup calendar. He leaves the race track on the cusp of the top-10 in points, with a track ahead of him -- Atlanta Motor Speedway -- where he's scored two victories, including a dominant win last October when he led seven times for a race-high 146 laps.
"I'm glad to have this one behind me and even happier knowing what's ahead of us," said Stewart. "The car we ran today is the car we ran last year at Atlanta, and we wanted to make sure we had it for our return trip."
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates -- Denny Hamlin, J.J. Yeley and Aric Almirola -- finished third, 18th and 41st, respectively, in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. For Almirola, it was the 22-year-old's first Nextel Cup race. An accident ended his day after just 46 laps.
Hamlin is now the lead JGR driver in the championship point race, as his third-place finish moved him up 10 spots to eighth in the standings. Yeley occupies the ninth spot after dropping one position due to his 18th-place finish.
Jimmie Johnson won the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 to score his 24th career Nextel Cup victory and his third consecutive win at Las Vegas. Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon finished second, while Hamlin finished third. Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Stewart, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the March 18 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.