Texas: Tony Stewart race report

STEWART EXPERIENCES A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS Two Spins and a Flat Tire Torpedo Top-10 Effort at Texas Tony Stewart ran as high as third in Sunday's Samsung 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, but...

STEWART EXPERIENCES A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
Two Spins and a Flat Tire Torpedo Top-10 Effort at Texas

Tony Stewart ran as high as third in Sunday's Samsung 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, but when the checkered flag dropped after 334 laps around the 1.5-mile oval, Stewart was two laps down and credited with a 25th-place finish.

What happened?

Stewart's No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet proved to be a solid top-10 contender from start. Even a scrape with the turn four wall on lap 130 as Stewart motored off the track's 24-degree banking didn't dent Stewart's top-10 status, nor did a race car that after being adjusted in the chill of an overcast and windy Saturday was slip-sliding around in the heat of a 70-degree sun-filled Sunday.

No, Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli may not have had a winner on their hands, but they had a top-10 point-getter, until lap 237 when the No. 20 team's race began to unravel.

While coming off turn four in a side-by-side duel with Nextel Cup rookie and Formula 1 race victor Juan Pablo Montoya, the international superstar but stock car neophyte tagged Stewart's left door to send The Home Depot Chevrolet spinning down toward pit road. With nowhere to go, reining Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson nosed into the left rear corner of Stewart's Chevy. As Montoya motored on, Johnson went to the garage for lengthy service while Stewart trudged to pit road for repairs of his own.

The good news for Stewart was that most of the contact with Johnson was on the left rear tire, so there was minimal body damage. After a four-tire change and a once-over of the damage, Zipadelli brought Stewart back to pit road to check the car's alignment. All was determined to be well, and Stewart rejoined the field in 15th as the second to last car on the lead lap.

However, a series of unfortunate events would soon take its toll on Stewart and his drive for a top-10 finish.

Back under green on lap 247, contact with the No. 13 Chevrolet of Joe Nemechek cut Stewart's right rear tire. An unscheduled, green flag pit stop put Stewart a lap down, and as he tried to race his way back onto the lead lap, Stewart spun unassisted through the frontstretch on lap 252. Instead of being one lap down, Stewart was now two laps down, with little chance of earning any of those laps back.

"I don't know if we had a winning car, but we had a solid top-10 car no problem," said Stewart after the race. "It was a totally different race car than yesterday, obviously. The car was evil all day. It would jump sideways off the corner and it just wasn't the same race car it was yesterday. I wish I knew why it was that way. We fought a no-handling car all day and fought it good enough to keep it in the top-10. But the deal with Montoya, the flat tire and... it all just added up to a bad day."

Despite the bad day, Stewart maintained his top-10 point standing. The two-time Nextel Cup champion dropped only one spot to ninth, 322 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon.

Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates -- Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley -- finished ninth and 43rd, respectively, in the Samsung 500. Hamlin picked up one position to climb to fifth in points, while Yeley dropped four spots to fall to 22nd.

Jeff Burton won the Samsung 500 to score his 19th career Nextel Cup victory and his second at Texas. Matt Kenseth finished second, while Mark Martin, Gordon and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-five. Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Montoya, Hamlin and David Stremme comprised the remainder of the top-10.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the April 21 Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. The race begins at 8:30 p.m. EDT.

-credit: jgr

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