JOLIET, Ill., (July 15, 2001) - It wasn't the inaugural Tropicana 386.5 at Chicagoland Speedway and it wasn't Tony Stewart's day. That about sums up the inaugural Tropicana 400 at the 1.5-mile oval, a race in which Stewart finished 33rd after ...
JOLIET, Ill., (July 15, 2001) - It wasn't the inaugural Tropicana 386.5 at Chicagoland Speedway and it wasn't Tony Stewart's day.
That about sums up the inaugural Tropicana 400 at the 1.5-mile oval, a race in which Stewart finished 33rd after crashing nine laps short of the finish.
Up until lap 258 of the 267-lap race, however, Stewart's Home Depot Pontiac was a legitimate top-10 contender. He quickly advanced from his 27th place starting spot to 15th by lap 30, and with the help of a few quick pit stops, cracked the top-10 on lap 118.
With passing at a premium at the brand new track located about an hour south of Chicago, Stewart needed patience and quick pit stops to gain track position. He had both, and as the laps ticked away toward the finish, Stewart looked assured of garnering his 10th top-finish of the season.
But looks can be deceiving.
Coming off turn two on lap 258, the rear end of the #20 car wiggled and Stewart cracked the throttle just a hair to bring his Home Depot ride back into line.
Stewart did what was necessary to keep control of his car, but the brief pause in forward momentum gave those behind Stewart little, if any, time to react.
Sterling Marlin was the man right behind Stewart with Kurt Busch's Ford right behind Marlin. As Stewart sawed on his steering wheel, the nose of Marlin's Dodge nudged the #20's rear bumper, sending Stewart spinning down the backstretch. Going backward, The Home Depot Pontiac slammed hard into the inside retaining wall, effectively ending Stewart's day.
Upon pulling himself out of the car, Stewart was quickly transported to the infield care center. He was treated and released, and a golf cart whisked him away to his motorcoach. Stewart departed the race track shortly thereafter.
When the race concluded and Marlin climbed from his car, the ninth-place driver offered this explanation for the accident.
"I think he (Stewart) just got loose," said Marlin. "We came up off the corner and I was dead on him. The '97' (Busch) was right on me. I couldn't check up. I knew I'd get run over. It was too late to even check up. Tony kind of wiggled and by the time I got up on him I just barely touched him and he turned around."
The resulting 33rd place finish dropped Stewart from fourth to sixth in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings. Stewart now stands 249 markers behind Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett, who are now tied for the point lead.
Gordon came into the Tropicana 400 as the point leader, but a dropped cylinder 11 laps from the finish dropped Gordon from fourth to 17th when the checkered flag waved. That enabled Jarrett to close the gap on Gordon with a strong fourth-place finish. Equally strong was Ricky Rudd, who finished third and maintained his third-place standing in the points, closing the gap between himself and the two point leaders to just 18 digits.
Winning the race was rookie driver Kevin Harvick, who seems poised to tie, if not break, Stewart's record for the most wins by a rookie. The 25-year-old Harvick now has two Winston Cup victories on his resume - Atlanta in March and Sunday's win in Joliet. With 18 races still remaining on the schedule, Harvick has more than ample time to make a run at Stewart's record.
Coming home second in a career-best effort was Robert Pressley, while Rudd, Jarrett and Jimmy Spencer rounded out the top-five.
The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon on July 22 at 2 p.m. EDT. TNT will provide live coverage of the event.