Backyard Barbecue Stewart Torches Field to Win at Atlanta Tony Stewart held a backyard barbecue Sunday afternoon when he torched the field in Sunday's Bass Pro Shops 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The driver of...
Stewart Torches Field to Win at Atlanta
Tony Stewart held a backyard barbecue Sunday afternoon when he torched the field in Sunday's Bass Pro Shops 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing handily won the 500-mile race, as he led seven times for a race-high 146 laps to secure a win in the hometown of his primary sponsor - The Home Depot.
"This is pretty special because Atlanta is home to Home Depot," said Stewart from victory lane. "We did what we wanted to do. We got up front early and stayed up front all day. And to do it in Home Depot's backyard makes it even sweeter."
Stewart started the 325-lap race in 11th after Friday's qualifying session was rained-out and the 43-car field was set by points. But he didn't stay there long, as Stewart's familiar orange and black Chevrolet Monte Carlo was pacing the field by lap 24.
Also strong were the Chevys of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, as well as Jeff Gordon before a tangle with Jamie McMurray on lap 170 made him struggle to stay in the top-10.
"When the green flag dropped today, the car drove exactly like it did at the end of practice yesterday," said Stewart. "That's pretty uncommon, and I was really encouraged that we had something good to work with.
"We just fine-tuned on it all day. I don't think we made any big adjustments. We just kept trying small combinations to find exactly what the car liked during long runs.
"At the end, track position was huge because everybody was really fast with the cool temperatures. I was really proud of my team for their good pit stops all day, and for Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) for making the call there at the end to come and get four tires."
That pivotal call came during the second to last caution period on lap 306.
In the lead with only 14 laps on his tires, the caution with less than 20 laps to go put the No. 20 team in a precarious spot. Do they give up track position and pit for four fresh tires for the final dash to the finish? Or do they stay out on old tires to maintain track position while all those behind them pit for fresher, faster rubber?
"They're going to do what we don't do," radioed Zipadelli. "We're not going to get beat by tires. Bring it to us."
Stewart obliged and brought his Home Depot Chevrolet to pit road for four new Goodyears and a splash of gas.
Most of the leaders followed, with the lone exception being Earnhardt, who stayed out and inherited the lead. And of those who did pit, Carl Edwards took only two tires to Stewart's four. When the race restarted on lap 309, it was Earnhardt in first, Edwards in second and Stewart in third. Johnson was fourth while Matt Kenseth was fifth.
"Greg made an awesome call to put four tires on," said Stewart. "He let me know that we had lost six-tenths of a second between our first lap and our 10th lap on a 10-lap run before the caution came out. We knew we needed to come in and get tires. I just didn't know how many he was going to put on. Four tires was the way to go. The '99' car (Edwards) was the only one that beat us out, and we got by him before the next caution came out."
The final caution waved for a multi-car crash in turn one that set the stage for a final 11-lap sprint.
"That gave us a buffer between us and Jimmie (Johnson) that let me focus more on the '8' car (Earnhardt)," continued Stewart. "I pretty much knew all day where he was going to go on the restarts, so I knew he was going to give me the bottom. I got a really good run through turns one and two and got underneath him on the backstretch. From there, it was just a matter of making sure I could get clear of him before we got to turn three, because if he tucked down on the right rear, it was going to make us really loose. So I just drove it in really hard for one lap because I knew I had to clear him, even if I sacrificed the tires.
"We just ran our pace at that point. Junior was still in second, but we were pulling away. We ran the pace we needed to run to keep the interval we had."
The final interval was 1.195 seconds, Stewart's margin of victory over Johnson, who passed Earnhardt for the runner-up spot. Earnhardt finished third, while Kenseth and Greg Biffle rounded out the rest of the top-five.
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished eighth and 16th, respectively.
Hamlin continues to lead the trio of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the championship point standings, as he is the lone Gibbs representative in the Chase for the Championship. Hamlin gained one spot to climb to third in points and is now only 65 markers behind series leader Matt Kenseth.
Stewart maintained his 11th-place point standing and holds a healthy 285-point lead over 12th-place Edwards.
Yeley held steady at 29th in points and currently sits 200 points outside the top-25.
Stewart's win in the Bass Pro Shops 500 was his 28th career Nextel Cup victory, his fourth this season and his second at Atlanta. It was also the 53rd Nextel Cup win for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Jeff Gordon rallied from his incident with McMurray to finish sixth, while Edwards, Hamlin, Joe Nemechek and Robby Gordon (no relation) rounded out the top-10.
With only three races remaining, the next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Nov. 5 Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The race begins at 2:55 p.m. EST with live, high-definition coverage provided by NBC.