Atlanta: Tony Stewart race report

Atlanta Far From Golden for Stewart & Co. Home Depot Team Fights Ill-Handling Race Car to Finish 17th in Golden Corral 500 HAMPTON, Ga., (March 20, 2005) - Tony Stewart's streak of seven consecutive top-10 finishes at Atlanta Motor Speedway...

Atlanta Far From Golden for Stewart & Co.
Home Depot Team Fights Ill-Handling Race Car to Finish 17th in Golden Corral 500

HAMPTON, Ga., (March 20, 2005) - Tony Stewart's streak of seven consecutive top-10 finishes at Atlanta Motor Speedway came to an end in Sunday's Golden Corral 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet finished a disappointing 17th at the 1.54-mile oval, the last car on the lead lap.

"I think I wore the steering box out of that car," said Stewart after emerging from the team's transporter and casting a weary eye toward his race car. "That thing felt like it pushed down the frontstretch."

On a race day that started out with such promise, Sunday's Atlanta jaunt quickly turned sour.

On Friday, Stewart qualified his #20 machine a solid ninth and posted practice speeds within the top-10. It seemed to indicate that Sunday would prove fruitful for The Home Depot Racing Team. But just 25 laps into the 325-lap race, lemons were the only fruit in the #20 team's basket.

"We're tight," said Stewart on lap 27, "but it's kind of losing grip everywhere - like the car's on top of the race track."

As Stewart's march backward began, those words told the story of the day. He fell to 19th before the first round of green flag pit stops took place on lap 97, and it was there where a never-ending series of chassis changes commenced.

Wedge and air pressure adjustments on the first pit stop led to track bar adjustments, spring adjustments and spoiler adjustments during the eight subsequent pit stops. Yet despite all the work, The Home Depot Chevrolet remained a handful.

"Our entry through the center (of the corner) is tight, and the longer we go the more our exit (off the corner) frees up. I'm just plowing the fence down entry to center," said Stewart on lap 233. "We need to undo whatever changes we've made. It's just worse now."

"For all that we did we should be loose everywhere," retorted crew chief Greg Zipadelli.

"Well then, just whack the rear spoiler off the thing," said Stewart. "That'll do it."

Unfortunately for Stewart and Co., NASCAR frowns upon seeing its race cars with no rear spoiler, especially at a race track where corner speeds approach 200 mph.

The spoiler stayed, but at a reduced (but legal) angle thanks to a few hearty whacks with a rubber mallet during a lap-234 pit stop.

Stewart's skittish race car remained skittish, and when the checkered flag dropped on the season's first 500-mile race, The Home Depot Chevrolet was the last remaining car on the lead lap, 17th in the 43-car field.

The uncharacteristic finish dropped Stewart one spot in the championship point standings to seventh, 166 markers behind new series leader Jimmie Johnson.

Winning the Golden Corral 500 in impressive fashion was rookie Carl Edwards. The 25-year-old Roush Racing driver scored his first career Nextel Cup victory in just his 17th start with a daring last lap pass that nipped Johnson at the line by .028 seconds. Greg Biffle, Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne rounded-out the top-five, while the rest of the top-10 was comprised of Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip, Dave Blaney, Scott Riggs and Elliott Sadler.

The Nextel Cup Series takes a weekend off in observance of Easter before heading to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for the April 3 Food City 500. The race starts at 1:15 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Greg Biffle , Scott Riggs , Kasey Kahne , Brian Vickers , Elliott Sadler , Dave Blaney