KANSAS CITY, Kan., (Sept. 30, 2001) - It was not a fun race. It was not a particularly exciting race. But the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway was at least a productive race for Tony Stewart. Stewart soldiered home to an ...
KANSAS CITY, Kan., (Sept. 30, 2001) - It was not a fun race. It was not a particularly exciting race. But the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway was at least a productive race for Tony Stewart.
Stewart soldiered home to an eighth-place finish to score his fifth straight top-10 and solidify his third-place standing in the championship points chase on a day where many drivers failed to even finish.
Thirteen caution periods littered the racing action, as a total of 18 drivers were involved in some sort of accident at various points throughout the day.
Stewart skillfully avoided most of the carnage, although there were still many battle scars on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac when the 267-lap race mercifully ended.
Stewart started from the 11th spot and immediately found that forward progress on the one-groove, 1.5-mile oval came at a premium. If it wasn't another competitor's blown engine or crash that thwarted Stewart, it was an ill-handling chassis on an unforgiving, green race track.
Complaining of a tight race car from the get-go, Stewart did his best to put his #20 machine into the top-10. He succeeded, but not because he was able to pass anyone. He succeeded because of the misfortune of those in front of him.
By lap 33 Stewart was 10th, and he soon moved into eighth following a solid pit stop while under caution on lap 51. During that stop, the team noticed some slight damage to the left front corner. It was purely cosmetic, and the team surmised that it came during one of the evasive moves Stewart had to make in the early going.
There would be more.
As the race continued, Stewart hovered between eighth and 11th, dodging wrecks and dealing with less-than-stellar handling conditions all the while.
On lap 257, a two-car crash on the frontstretch between pole-sitter Jason Leffler and Terry Labonte bunched the field as they raced to the caution flag. Stewart made incidental contact with the #77 Ford of Robert Pressley, thereby incurring more damage.
Still, Stewart persevered. He used the ensuing 11-minute red flag period to plot his course in the waning laps. The course led to his eighth-place finish when the race came to its conclusion, 3 hours, 37 minutes and 19 seconds from the time it started.
Stewart now has a 54-point buffer between himself and Sterling Marlin, the man who holds down the fourth spot in the championship point standings. A much more formidable 228-margin separates Stewart from second-place Ricky Rudd.
Jeff Gordon padded his point lead by notching his sixth NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory of the season by winning the inaugural Protection One 400. He now commands a 222-point lead over Rudd, who finished the race in third behind rookie Ryan Newman. Rusty Wallace took fourth while Marlin rounded out the top-five.
The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte (N.C.) on Oct. 7 at 12:30 p.m. EDT. NBC will provide live coverage of the event.