STEWART HANGS TOUGH FOR TOP-10 FINISH DESPITE ROUGH DAY DOVER, Del., July 19, 1998 -- NASCAR driver Jimmy Spencer said Saturday that he has his special name for the high-banked Dover Downs International Speedway, known as the "Monster...
STEWART HANGS TOUGH FOR TOP-10 FINISH DESPITE ROUGH DAY
DOVER, Del., July 19, 1998 -- NASCAR driver Jimmy Spencer said Saturday that he has his special name for the high-banked Dover Downs International Speedway, known as the "Monster Mile."
"I call it the 'Animal,'" he said. "It'll bite you anywhere."
On Sunday, Dover Downs acted like a pit bull, biting car after car during the Pep Boys Indy Racing League inaugural Pep Boys 400K race. Veteran Scott Sharp survived the attrition to win for the second time this season, edging 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier by .689 of a second.
The "Animal" bit Tony Stewart's Glidden-Menards Special G Force/Aurora/Firestone, which set a 1-mile qualifying record speed of 185.204 mph for the pole position. Fortunately, it wasn't the walls that put their incisors into his car, but those of the mechanical gremlins. But Team Menard bit back, and Stewart managed to fight his way to an eighth-place finish.
It's certainly not the victory Stewart wanted. But hard work by his crew helped him climb three spots late in the race and gain five valuable points in his battle to win a second straight Pep Boys IRL championship. Sharp earned 52 points for his win and took the points lead with 202 heading into the VisionAire 500 on July 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Stewart slipped into second but trails Sharp only by eight points, with 194. It would have been 186 if the crew hadn't performed a complete right rear wheel assembly change during the second half of the race. Stewart knows how important it is to collect as many points possible in each race, since he won last year's title by only six over Davey Hamilton. Hamilton placed fourth and now is third in the standings with 163.
"I'm more proud of this crew than anybody," Stewart said. "These guys gave me the best and fastest race car that was here all weekend. They worked their butts off to get us back in the race. That's what it takes to win championships.
"We got out there and got three more spots, and that's invaluable points that we're going to need for the end of the year."
Stewart's woes began on Lap 109 when he pitted during a caution period for a crash involving reigning Indy 500 champion Eddie Cheever and Greg Ray. His dashboard dangled nearly in his lap after constant pounding from the track had snapped the brackets holding it.
"I'd never had one fall off," team manager Larry Curry said. "Evidently, what it did was break the mounts off the dash. Never really fell in his lap, but it was against the steering column."
The problem needed a quick fix, Curry said, because there's a plug on the back of the dashboard that will shut off the engine if pulled loose.
Like any home fixer-upper, the crew grabbed duct tape and placed the dashboard back where it belonged.
The dashboard problem was minor compared to what happened to Stewart's car on Lap 170. The car suddenly started pulling severely to the right. Stewart jumped off the throttle, and that helped the car turn left.
"I never had something like that break before," he said. "I knew something had broke, or I thought I had a flat tire for a minute. I went in and tried to make the arc as big as I could without doing something drastic with the steering wheel."
When Stewart pulled into his pit stall, the crew went to work on the right rear wheel area. They had to replace all of the parts, and they completed the job in time for Stewart to return to the track by Lap 197. Doing most of the work were John O'Gara, normally Robbie Buhl's chief mechanic, Don Skinner and Stewart's chief mechanic Scott Marks.
Stewart showed total confidence in his crew's work, passing five cars on his first lap at speed on the track.
"The guys really worked hard," Curry said. "We had to replace the right rear assembly, I mean, upright, drive shaft, tripod, everything. They did it, and we got back out and picked up a couple of positions. That's what is important."
On the final lap of the race, Stewart had to back out of the throttle because he thought the engine was losing power.
"I'll tell you the truth, certainly you come to every race to win," Curry said. "But I told the guys last night if we rolled this car off the truck, if we went out and got the checkered flag and if the car went on the truck with four wheels on it, that you've had a successful day.
Said Stewart, "We're coming out of this in a lot better shape than a lot of guys are."
Accidents sidelined Arie Luyendyk, Robby Unser, Steve Knapp, Cheever, Ray, Sam Schmidt, Jeff Ward and Dr. Jack Miller.