STEWART SOLID IN ALL-STAR CHALLENGE Fifth-Place Finish Bucks Trend of Non-Finishes in Non-Points Race After failing to finish the past two NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge races at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway -- and three of the last four...
STEWART SOLID IN ALL-STAR CHALLENGE
Fifth-Place Finish Bucks Trend of Non-Finishes in Non-Points Race
After failing to finish the past two NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge races at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway -- and three of the last four non-point races at the 1.5-mile oval -- Tony Stewart simply wanted to finish this year's edition of the specialty event. He did just that, rallying from last in the 21-car field to finish fifth.
"I never said I wasn't going to race, I just said I wanted to finish 80 laps today," Stewart said. "We just kept making the car better and better. I'm really proud of Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) and these guys. We're getting there. That's probably the best we've run at Charlotte in a long time. It really gets our confidence up more for next week."
Next week is the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule and the culminating event of Charlotte Speedweeks.
"That was the best we've run here in the last three years," said Stewart. "We've crashed out the past few times. My goal was to run 80 laps tonight and I did. We started dead last because of the motor change and we got up to fifth, and we're really happy with that. That was a good run for the Home Depot team."
Stewart qualified his No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet 17th, but during the qualifying run, which consisted of three timed laps with a four-tire pit stop, Stewart missed a shift while coming off pit road and damaged the engine. As a result, the engine had to be replaced, which meant Stewart had to start at the rear of the 21-car field.
"We ended up fifth," Stewart said. "It was a good night for us. We started dead last and to go from 21st to fifth was a really good night. We were really tight for a lot of the race and the guys kept working on it to make it better. Considering how bad we've run here in the last two or three years, I'm pretty happy with it tonight."
Especially happy with the evening was Kevin Harvick. He won the All-Star Challenge and the $1 million paycheck that came with it. Jimmie Johnson finished second, while Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Stewart rounded out the top-five. Johnny Sauter, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Martin Truex Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Truex Jr. won the NEXTEL Open to advance into the All-Star Challenge. Sauter followed him in second to earn his birth in the All-Star Challenge. Kenny Wallace was chosen via the fan vote to participate in the All-Star Challenge. He finished 16th.
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, finished 17th in the All-Star Challenge after being involved in accident on lap 63. Stewart's other Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, J.J. Yeley, finished 13th in the NEXTEL Open as he fought a tight-handling race car throughout the 40-lap race.
The Nextel Cup Series returns to point-paying racing on May 27 with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. The longest race on the Nextel Cup schedule gets underway at 5:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by FOX.