Stewart Extends Point Lead with Top-10 Run at Atlanta HAMPTON, Ga., (Oct. 30, 2005) - Tony Stewart finished a solid ninth in Sunday's Bass Pro Shops/MBNA 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway to pick up 28 points on his...
Stewart Extends Point Lead with Top-10 Run at Atlanta
HAMPTON, Ga., (Oct. 30, 2005) - Tony Stewart finished a solid ninth in Sunday's Bass Pro Shops/MBNA 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway to pick up 28 points on his nearest championship pursuer, Jimmie Johnson. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing now leads the series' point standings by 43 markers over Johnson with just three races remaining.
"I'm happy," said Stewart, who started the race in 10th. "Obviously, we wanted to run a little better than we did. But at the same time, we did what we needed to do. We needed to gain some points and we did. A 43-point lead with three races to go isn't a cakewalk by any means, but it gives us a small amount of breathing room."
While not great on Atlanta's 1.54-mile oval for all 325 laps, Stewart was at least better than Johnson, who finished 16th, and good enough to not let third-place Greg Biffle gain much ground. Biffle finished seventh, just two spots and eight points ahead of Stewart's ninth-place effort.
"In the big picture, it was a solid day for us," said Stewart. "We got the lead once and got five points early and that was a huge goal for us. As the race went on, we just kept fighting as we tried to get the balance right. But we stayed in the top-10 all day. For most of the beginning of the race we stayed in the top-five until we got a little behind and we just could never really get caught up. But we were able to maintain all day. It wasn't a disastrous day, by any means. Still, I would've liked to have been better."
Stewart's Atlanta outing wasn't a good as he would've liked because the handling of his Home Depot Chevrolet proved finicky.
The #20 machine was tight in the center of the corner but loose off the corner whenever Stewart got back on the gas. Attempts to remedy the handling situation by crew chief Greg Zipadelli prove fitful, for a chassis tweak in one area adversely affected the car elsewhere. The handling conundrum was never solved, but it proved of little matter, for Johnson's car was far worse, getting looser and looser in the waning laps to drop out of the top-15.
"As fast as we're running here, if you lose just a little bit of momentum, it shows up huge," said Stewart. "That's why when running eighth, I couldn't even see the leaders after about 15 or 20 laps. At times we were probably three-quarters of a lap down compared to the leaders.
"If you have a part of your car that's off - whether you're a little too tight or a little too free - it's going to cost you time. We were all over the board today. We were tight. We were loose. But at the same time, Zippy and the crew had great pit stops and had good calls in the pits and made good changes. That's what you have to overcome to have a day like we had."
Carl Edwards won the Bass Pro Shops/MBNA 500 to score his third career Nextel Cup victory and sweep the two Nextel Cup races at Atlanta, as his inaugural win came in the series' March visit to Atlanta. His last win came at Pocono (Pa.) in June, 19 races ago.
Jeff Gordon finished second, while Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth rounded-out the rest of the top-five. Comprising the remainder of the top-10 were Jamie McMurray, Biffle, Jeff Burton, Stewart and Elliott Sadler.
Live coverage of next week's Dickies 500 begins at 3 p.m. EST on NBC.