LAS VEGAS (March 4, 2001) - Twelfth-place finishes don't amount to bad days for the average NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver. But after winning nine races in just two seasons on the circuit, Tony Stewart isn't your average Winston Cup ...
LAS VEGAS (March 4, 2001) - Twelfth-place finishes don't amount to bad days for the average NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver. But after winning nine races in just two seasons on the circuit, Tony Stewart isn't your average Winston Cup driver.
The Home Depot Pontiac driver finished 12th in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and declared it a bad day. But as evidenced by Stewart's continuing maturation process, the third year Winston Cup driver didn't write the day off as a total loss.
"It wasn't the day that we wanted," said Stewart, "but at the same time, we finished the thing while some good cars got taken out in wrecks. It's nice to say that we had a bad day and still finished 12th. We just missed it a little bit on the setup. We had an off day. We'll come back next week at Atlanta and see if we can continue this streak of being competitive."
Stewart has come back strong since crashing violently in the season-opening Daytona 500 and being 36th in points. A solid fourth-place finish in round two at Rockingham (N.C.) vaulted the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing team into 16th in points, and today's respectable outing has brought the team back into their normal setting - the top-10 in points.
Currently ninth in the championship point standings, Stewart and Co. know that the remaining 33 races on the Winston Cup schedule are valuable commodities, and must be treated as such.
"You've got to take it one race at a time," said Stewart. "You can't get ahead of yourself. Right now we just look at it and say that we're better than we were last year at this time. That's what our goal has always been each year - to be better than we were the previous year. We didn't have a better day than we did last year for this race, but all in all, we're feeling better about ourselves at this part of the season than we were at this point last year."
While today's run wasn't the second-place effort that the team recorded at Las Vegas last year, it was an impressive display of teamwork and maturity.
After starting the 267-lap race in the fifth spot, Stewart began picking off those ahead of him. He passed Johnny Benson for fourth on lap 20, and then made it past Jerry Nadeau for third six laps later.
But Stewart made his biggest gain during the first round of pit stops while under caution on lap 28. Thanks to the quick work of his pit crew, Stewart emerged from pit road with the lead. Once the race restarted on lap 31, Stewart held the top spot for three laps before Todd Bodine took the point.
After Bodine passed Stewart, so did Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, Bobby Labonte and the rest of the front-runners. When crew chief Greg Zipadelli radioed Stewart for an update, Stewart shot back, "I'm loose, loose, loose."
Fifty laps into the race, Stewart was holding his own in eighth-place. "The longer we run, the more it starts coming to me. But I still need help on entry and in the center of the corner," radioed Stewart.
In the two subsequent pit stops on lap 90 and 97 that both came after separate caution flags, an air pressure adjustment and a track bar adjustment were made to help cure The Home Depot Pontiac's handling woes. Four fresh tires were also taken on each pit stop.
When racing resumed on lap 101, Stewart found himself mired back in 16th, thanks to many teams taking just two tires as opposed to the #20 team's choice for four.
But the added rubber on the car gave Stewart more grip on the track, and he began to work his way through the field. As the laps unfolded and more pit stops took place, Stewart slowly inched himself toward the top-10. But eventually time ran out on The Home Depot Racing Team. When the checkered flag waved, 12th was all that could be mustered.
Enjoying a better day than Stewart was Jeff Gordon, who won the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 by 1.477 seconds over Dale Jarrett. The win also earned Gordon a $1 million bonus from series sponsor Winston, as he was one of five drivers eligible to win a million in Winston's No Bull 5 promotion. Joining Gordon in the celebration was Rodney Mims of Clanton, Ala., who also won $1 million as part of Winston's "You Win, They Win" fan sweepstakes.
Jarrett's second-place effort was his second top-10 finish in three races this season. Behind Jarrett was a strong-running Sterling Marlin, who's third-place run earned him the lead in the championship point standings. Coming home fourth was Johnny Benson, who jumped from 13th in points to sixth. And rounding out the top-five was Todd Bodine, who earned just his fifth career top-five finish.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 11 at 1 p.m. EST. FOX Sports will provide live coverage.