Stewart Soldiers to 14th-Place Finish at Phoenix Ill-Handling Race Car Keeps Home Depot Team Busy It was a weekend project the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Team didn't want - fixing an evil-handling Home Depot Chevrolet during Sunday's Checker ...
Stewart Soldiers to 14th-Place Finish at Phoenix
Ill-Handling Race Car Keeps Home Depot Team Busy
It was a weekend project the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Team didn't want - fixing an evil-handling Home Depot Chevrolet during Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.
But that is what they had, as the dominating performances of the past two weeks at Atlanta and Texas - where driver Tony Stewart led 424 of a possible 664 laps (63.9 percent) - could not be found on the 1-mile desert oval.
"As bad as our car was this weekend, we still were able to get it better," said Stewart, who for the first time in three races climbed from his car in the garage area instead of in victory lane. "We just weren't able to get our car to cut (in the corner) the whole weekend. No matter what we did, all we could do was just free the entry up too much and free the exit up. We really couldn't get the center freed up enough.
"But I'm proud of Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) and all of the guys on The Home Depot team. They kept fighting, but we just couldn't get the Monte Carlo SS to turn today. It's something we've been fighting a lot this year at the intermediate tracks, mile tracks and three-quarter mile tracks, so we just didn't get it right this weekend either."
In addition to dealing with an ill-handling race car, Stewart had to deal with poor visibility in the later stages of the 312-lap race as the sun set behind turns one and two. The piercing glare was a problem for all of the drivers, and it contributed to a lap 273 incident where Stewart made contact with the No. 26 Ford of Jamie McMurray.
"The sun was down, and it kind of caught me off guard. I didn't even realize I had him (McMurray) picked up until he got sideways," said Stewart. "It's a weird deal, for sure. I saw him dart across at the last second and then I thought I was just following him. The next thing I know I had him picked up. It stinks because Jamie was having a good run. That's the best run he's had all year. Jamie's a good guy. I'll call him and talk to him about it, but it was just a weird situation."
With the mishap behind him, Stewart simply did the best he could with the car that he had. The 14th-place finish was a respectable one, as it marked a gain of nine spots from his 23rd-place starting spot.
The result also locked up Stewart's 11th-place point standing and the $1 million payout that comes with it. Stewart holds an insurmountable 323-point lead over 12th-place Carl Edwards with only one race remaining.
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished third and 20th, respectively.
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 held steady at fourth in points, 90 markers behind series leader Jimmie Johnson with only one race remaining.
Yeley maintained his 28th-place point standing and is 177 points outside the top-25.
Kevin Harvick scored his 10th career Nextel Cup victory and his fifth of the season by winning the Checker Auto Parts 500k. The win gave him a sweep of this year's Nextel Cup races at Phoenix, as Harvick won the series' first visit to the 1-mile oval in April.
Johnson finished second to further his lead in the championship point standings to 63 over second-place Matt Kenseth.
Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and Edwards secured the rest of the top-five, while Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Burton comprised the remainder of the top-10.
The Nextel Cup season concludes on Sun., Nov. 19 with the running of the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race begins at 2:55 p.m. EST with live, high-definition coverage provided by NBC.