Phoenix: Tony Stewart race report

STEWART FINISHES SECOND AT PHOENIX Home Depot Driver Leads Three Times for a Race-High 132 Laps For many drivers, a second-place finish in a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race is an incredibly good day. For Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home ...

STEWART FINISHES SECOND AT PHOENIX
Home Depot Driver Leads Three Times for a Race-High 132 Laps

For many drivers, a second-place finish in a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race is an incredibly good day. For Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, it can prove to be bitterly disappointing, at least when a second-place finish comes after leading three times for a race-high 132 laps.

Such was the case in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway.

Stewart appeared ready to secure career win No. 30 and his first of the season when he was handily leading laps 155-212 and laps 214-286 of the 312-lap race. But a caution on lap 285 for a three-car accident in turn four jumbled the running order, for just before the caution came out, Jeff Gordon -- Stewart's nearest pursuer -- pitted for four tires and fuel.

Stewart pitted under caution, but came out in second as Gordon was awarded the No. 1 spot following the series of pit stops.

When the race restarted on lap 293, Stewart pursued Gordon, and made up considerable ground when the four-time Nextel Cup champion became stuck behind the lapped car of Martin Truex Jr. Stewart brought the estimated crowd of 105,000 to its feet with a daring three-wide pass of Gordon entering turn three. Stewart split the middle, with Gordon down low and Truex on the outside. Stewart emerged off turn four with the lead, but Gordon came back, and in the same corner where the two traded the lead a lap earlier, Gordon got underneath Stewart and made the pass stick for good coming off turn four.

Gordon led the final 13 laps, taking his first win at Phoenix and the 76th of his career, putting him in a tie with the late Dale Earnhardt for sixth on NASCAR's all-time win list.

While Gordon celebrated, Stewart sulked. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet has seen at least three potential wins this year go to someone else when the checkered flag dropped (Daytona: led 35 laps, finished 43rd; Atlanta: led 121 laps, finished second; and Bristol: led 257 laps, finished 35th).

"We've had decent runs, and that's the disappointing part," said Stewart's crew chief, Greg Zipadelli. "We probably should have more wins this year and somehow we keep letting them slip away. That part of it is frustrating. I don't know if it's anyone's fault. A lot of it was circumstances.

"I think everybody did a good job overnight and the changes we made this morning and during the race. Overall the team did a great job this weekend and I am proud of them. We didn't have that great of a car yesterday and we made a lot of changes. Everybody put their heads together and we came home second. We brought a car that had a shot at winning and that's all you can do.

"It's a good night anytime you can run in the top-five. We felt like the second half of the race we had a good car. The yellow flag bit us, and the No. 24 (Gordon) got going the last 20 laps or so. It took our car a little bit to get going. If we could start out front in clean air, it was pretty good.

"It's a little frustrating because we won at this place before and I know Tony really wanted to win here, but we came up short again. Overall I think it was a great night for Joe Gibbs Racing. Second, third (with Denny Hamlin), and J.J. (Yeley) was having a great night and was going to be 12th or 14th but got caught up in that last accident. I think, overall, the performance was there. But we still need to keep working obviously, because we didn't win and that wasn't good enough."

Despite suffering the disappointment of what could've been, the No. 20 team's second runner-up result of the season bumped Stewart up two spots in the championship point standings. The two-time Nextel Cup champion is now seventh in points, 332 markers arrears series leader Gordon.

Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates -- Hamlin and Yeley -- finished third and 21st, respectively, in the Subway Fresh Fit 500k. Hamlin held steady at fifth in points, and Yeley maintained his 22nd-place standing.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the April 29 Aaron's 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT.

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Martin Truex Jr. , Denny Hamlin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing