Bristol: Tony Steward race report

Stewart soldiers, but succumbs to Bristol BRISTOL, Tenn., (March 24, 2002) - Bristol Motor Speedway is a physical race track that pushes the most physically fit drivers to their breaking point. For Tony Stewart, winner of last year's August...

Stewart soldiers, but succumbs to Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn., (March 24, 2002) - Bristol Motor Speedway is a physical race track that pushes the most physically fit drivers to their breaking point. For Tony Stewart, winner of last year's August NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Bristol, Sunday's Food City 500 at the .533-mile oval would be the ultimate test for the 30-year-old driver.

Stewart came to the most demanding track in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series still nursing the bruises and soreness that stemmed from a nasty accident one week ago at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. And despite leading twice for 74 laps and contending for the win the majority of the race, the physical nature of Bristol was simply too much for Stewart's battered and bruised body to endure.

The first indication that Stewart's injuries were beginning to act up came on lap 284 following his third pit stop of the day. Stewart complained of soreness, particularly in his lower back. It only worsened as the race wore on, prompting Stewart to ask crew chief Greg Zipadelli that Todd Bodine, a veteran NASCAR Busch Series and Winston Cup driver whose height and build made him ideally suited to fit into Stewart's seat, standby.

When Stewart spun out on his own on lap 365, the decision to make a driver change was made.

A fatigued Stewart brought The Home Depot Pontiac to pit road while under caution on lap 367, and Stewart was gingerly pulled from the cockpit. As Stewart was whisked away to the infield care center, where he would be treated and later released, crew members belted Bodine into the #20 machine. It took two pit stops to fasten the safety belts, Hutchens device and radio connection, but while leaving pit road following the second stop, NASCAR caught Bodine speeding on pit road. The resulting penalty was a pit road drive through that put Bodine 21st in the running order when the race restarted on lap 374.

When the green flag dropped, Bodine bore down, methodically picking up positions and staying out of trouble. The end result was a respectable 15th place finish, despite having to drive an unfamiliar car under extreme circumstances.

"I got in, and I don't know if the car was getting loose and that's why Tony spun out or what, but when I got in the car it was just really, really loose," said Bodine upon climbing from The Home Depot Pontiac. "I fought it the whole time and about spun out a couple of times. If he can drive it like that, he is my hero. I can tell you that.

"But I just did what I had to do, which was bring it back in one piece.  It's
a shame Tony couldn't stay in it.  He had a good car for what he liked."

"We came in here a little skeptical and not sure how Tony was going to do," added Zipadelli. "Then we take the lead, drive away and had - if not the best car, one of the best cars - a strong top-five car all day.

"It's just disappointing for the team, but I'm really proud of what everybody did. To know that every week this year we've had a top-five car - we haven't finished there, but we've had a top-five car and one of the best cars. You've just got to go with that.

"My hat's off to Tony for staying in it as long as he did. He just faded really bad there at the end. He's hurting pretty good. Hopefully, next week's off-weekend will get him rested up for Texas."

The finish kept Stewart steady in the points at 12th, although the distance between Stewart and point leader Sterling Marlin did grow to 204 points.

Sophomore driver Kurt Busch scored his maiden Winston Cup victory in the Food City 500, edging out veteran driver Jimmy Spencer for a $143,840 payday. Ricky Rudd was third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fourth and Bobby Labonte in fifth.

The Winston Cup Series takes a weekend off in observance of Easter before heading to Texas Motor Speedway for the April 7 Samsung/RadioShack 500. Live coverage by FOX begins at 2 p.m. EDT.

-jgr/hdr-

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Series NASCAR Cup