Bristol: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart Claws His Way to Third at Bristol Home Depot Driver Overcomes Pit Woes and Spin to Post Season-Best Finish BRISTOL, Tenn., (April 3, 2005) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...

Stewart Claws His Way to Third at Bristol
Home Depot Driver Overcomes Pit Woes and Spin to Post Season-Best Finish

BRISTOL, Tenn., (April 3, 2005) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet, posted his best finish of this still young NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season, scratching out a strong third-place finish in Sunday's Food City 500 at the rough and tumble Bristol Motor Speedway.

At a race track known for providing plenty of hurdles for those who compete, Bristol lived up to its billing. Fourteen caution periods for 115 laps and one red flag period told only part of the story, as the track's tight confines - on the race track and in the pits - proved troublesome for many.

Stewart was one of those people, as he saw his top-10 standing evaporate when he got boxed into his cramped pit stall on lap 138. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was pitted in the stall just before Stewart's. Earnhardt hit his stall first, but pulled in deep, leaving Stewart no choice but to angle his car sharply into his pit box. The Home Depot team made the stop quickly, but their work proved futile. Jimmie Johnson was in front of Stewart, and while Johnson was pitted properly, there was no room for Stewart to move forward when his #20 Chevrolet came off the jack. Stewart had to throw the transmission into reverse and back up before engaging first gear and motoring on. The whole episode was excruciatingly long, with Stewart dropping to 21st when the race restarted on lap 142.

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli kept Stewart calm, and the level-headedness proved fruitful as Stewart rose to 16th before a caution on lap 184. There, the #20 team made another strong pit stop, but Stewart stalled the car on exit. The quick shifts from first gear to reverse and back to first that happened on the first pit stop seemed to damage the transmission, as engaging first gear was difficult at best.

Again Stewart dropped to 21st, but with a long green flag run - a rarity on the day - Stewart clawed his way back into the top-10 on lap 273. The 2002 series champion became a mainstay in the top-10, rising to as high as fourth before pitting while under caution on lap 367.

Stewart restarted in fifth on lap 375 and appeared poised to make a run at the lead. But when Brian Vickers bobbled coming off turn two, it shuffled Stewart out of the top-10 once more.

As Vickers lost traction, Rusty Wallace and Stewart split Vickers' #25 Chevrolet. Wallace took the high side and Stewart went low down the backstretch. But upon entering turn three, Wallace came back down to the inside, clipping the right front corner of The Home Depot Chevrolet. Wallace went on while Stewart spun completely around, narrowly missing the outside retaining wall as oncoming cars narrowly missed him.

"I'm not sure what happened other than the fact we got hit by the '2'car (Wallace) and turned around," said Stewart. "I don't think it was a deal where he was trying to crowd us. He probably just thought he was giving me enough room and it wasn't enough room. So we're just lucky that's all it did and lucky that nobody else hit us. I spun out, kept going, grabbed a gear and that caution gave us an opportunity to come in and make repairs."

Two trips to pit road were in order, the first for fresh tires and the second to repair the slight damage to his right front fender. The pace set by the leaders was a fast one, so Stewart only dropped to 12th - the last driver on the lead lap - when the race restarted on lap 385.

Stewart methodically worked his way toward the front. In passing Michael Waltrip for 11th on lap 390, Stewart keyed the mic and said, "One at a time," a mantra he'd been repeating all day. Rookie driver Travis Kvapil was next in Stewart's sights, succumbing to the #20 machine on lap 400. With 10th in his pocket, Stewart moved onto ninth four laps later, jettisoning Scott Riggs for the spot.

A caution on lap 413 thwarted Stewart's momentum, while also giving pause to his crew. "I only have third and fourth gear," said Stewart, just before making his final pit stop of the day on lap 415. Yet even with the finicky transmission, Stewart gained a spot, emerging in eighth when the race restarted on lap 419.

Despite the slowdown for the caution, Stewart lost zero momentum when the race went back to green. He passed Earnhardt for seventh on lap 421, and Johnson for sixth three laps later.

Another caution on lap 426 was of little matter, for on the ensuing restart Stewart kept doing what he'd been doing - passing cars.

He took fifth from Greg Biffle on lap 484, but caught two big breaks when misfortune in the form of flat tires befell fourth-place Matt Kenseth and third-place Jeff Gordon on laps 486 and 492, respectively. Stewart kept digging, picking up third and holding onto it when the checkered flag dropped.

"We were good today," said Stewart, who started the 500-lap race in 11th. "But we had some bad luck that got us behind there with the contact with Rusty. Then we had some luck go our way when the '17' (Kenseth) and '24' (Gordon) had tire problems. We were closing in on Jeff before his tire went down, but closing in on Jeff and getting by him are two different stories. Still, I think we would've finished in the top-five either way. We got two extra spots because I got lucky and got those spots. I think the little bit of bad luck that we had - we got it back at the end."

Getting it all was Kevin Harvick, who scored his fifth career Nextel Cup win in 147 starts. The strong drive ended a 56-race victory drought, as his last triumph came at Indianapolis in August of 2003. Finishing second was pole-winner Elliott Sadler, while Stewart, Earnhardt and a resurgent Dale Jarrett rounded-out the top-five. Johnson, Kvapil, Kyle Petty, Biffle and Riggs comprised the rest of the top-10.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the April 10 Advance Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The race begins at 1:20 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Jimmie Johnson , Scott Riggs , Brian Vickers , Elliott Sadler , Travis Kvapil