Flat Tire Doesn't Deflate Home Depot Team at Martinsville
Stewart Rallies from 25th to Finish Fourth in Subway 500
Tony Stewart finished a strong fourth in Sunday's Subway 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, rallying from a flat tire that dropped the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet from fifth to 25th halfway through the 500-lap race.
But long before Stewart drove his Joe Gibbs Racing-prepared Chevy Monte Carlo through the field, crew chief Greg Zipadelli had to overhaul the chassis setup with a mechanical rally.
"Yesterday after happy hour we weren't even a top-10 car, let alone a car that could get up to fourth," said Stewart. "When I came in this morning Zippy said, 'You've got a totally different race car.'
"We changed a spindle, three springs and I don't know what else. Considering where we ended up yesterday and how we ended up today, I'm really happy with our run."
Stewart was able to take a race car that proved fitful in practice on Friday and Saturday and stay within the top-five when the green flag dropped on Sunday.
But as the team planned on staying off pit road during a mid-race caution period on lap 242 to retain their well-earned track position, Zipadelli heard chatter on the radio from other team's saying that the left rear tire on the Home Depot Chevy was flat.
The veteran crew chief wasted no time in calling Stewart to the pits, where on lap 247 the team changed left side tires only. As Stewart gassed it off pit road and down the backstretch, the race went green.
Stewart was 25th with cars all around him, but he kept his cool and stayed patient, methodically picking off those ahead of him.
"We pitted with 100 (laps) to go there and knew we had to make it last for 100 laps," said Stewart. "We just kind of watched everybody else and it really played into our hands.
"Everybody was racing each other pretty hard after we all pitted that last time. So, I just kind of laid back and took care of my stuff. And when it came time to run really hard there at the end, we had tires left and we had a good enough car to get up through there."
Following that last pit stop on lap 401, Stewart was 15th. He steadily worked his way to 10th, and in the last 10 laps, zeroed in on the top-five.
On the race's final restart on lap 494, Stewart passed Casey Mears for fifth off turn two. Stewart then chased down fourth-place Jeff Gordon, finally getting by the seven-time Martinsville winner on lap 497.
"He (Gordon) didn't give me any extra room by any means," said Stewart, "but you know in the last five laps that you're going to lean on each other. He gave me enough room and I didn't go in there and use him up. It's fun when you can race like that and have the confidence in each other that you're not going in there just to take somebody out."
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished second and 31st, respectively.
For Hamlin, it was his 16th top-10 finish this season. Yeley, meanwhile, was forced to pit under green after contact on lap 90 with the No. 38 car of David Gilliland cut his left rear tire, ending any chance of a good finish.
Hamlin continues to lead the trio of JGR drivers in the championship point standings, as he is the lone JGR representative in the Chase for the Championship. Hamlin climbed two spots to fourth in points, 47 markers behind new series leader Matt Kenseth.
Stewart maintained his 11th-place point standing and holds a healthy 246-point lead over 12th-place Carl Edwards.
Yeley dropped one position to 29th in points and sits 239 points outside the top-25.
Jimmie Johnson scored his 23rd career Nextel Cup victory, his fifth this season and his second at Martinsville by winning the Subway 500.
Finishing a season-best third behind Johnson and Hamlin was former JGR driver Bobby Labonte. Stewart trailed Labonte, while Gordon hung on to fifth.
Mears, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Green, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Petty comprised the rest of the top-10.
With only four races remaining, the next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Oct. 29 Bass Pro Shops 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race begins at 2:55 p.m. EST with live, high-definition coverage provided by NBC.