SPRING STOP AT BRISTOL YIELDS SAME RESULT FOR STEWART Home Depot Driver Leads the Most Laps for Third Time in Three Years, Yet Victory Continues to Elude No. 20 Team in Food City 500 Tony Stewart led six times for a race-high 267 laps in ...
SPRING STOP AT BRISTOL YIELDS SAME RESULT FOR STEWART
Home Depot Driver Leads the Most Laps for Third Time in Three Years, Yet Victory Continues to Elude No. 20 Team in Food City 500
Tony Stewart led six times for a race-high 267 laps in Sunday's Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, but a late-race accident with Kevin Harvick relegated the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota to a disappointing 14th-place finish.
Sound familiar? It should, for it marked the third straight Food City 500 where Stewart dominated, yet did not come away with the victory.
In last year's Food City 500, Stewart was performing his own rendition of the Bristol Stomp by leading four times for a race-high 257 laps, with his nearest pursuers resigned to the fact they were running for second. But misfortune struck the No. 20 machine on lap 289 when the fuel pump cable broke. With no fuel pressure, the engine shut off, forcing Stewart to come to pit road. Crew members were able to replace the cable, but the process was lengthy. Stewart was able to return to the 504-lap race, albeit 25 laps down. After dominating the race, Stewart was forced to simply ride around to the finish, where he posted a gut-wrenching 35th-place result.
In the 2006 Food City 500, Stewart led eight times for a race-high 245 laps, but with 25 laps to go the handle on his No. 20 Home Depot ride went away, dropping Stewart to 12th when the checkered flag waved.
Add it all up, and Stewart has led a staggering 769 laps in the past three Food City 500s (50.9 percent of the 1,510 laps available), but has an average finish of 20th.
Sunday's result offered up a different kind of disappointment, for Stewart's car was still strong. Mechanical problems didn't hamper the effort, nor did track conditions or the handling of his car. This year's shot at victory was derailed by an element totally out of the No. 20 team's control.
"I thought I left him plenty of room, but I don't know," said Stewart, as he replayed the incident with Harvick in his mind. "I was far enough ahead of him that I didn't see where he hit me or when he hit me."
The unfortunate chain of events began when Brian Vickers crashed on lap 491. Stewart was leading with less than 10 laps to go, and crew chief Greg Zipadelli had to make a critical decision: pit and take four tires to ensure more grip and a faster car, as the tires on the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota had over 100 laps on them, or stay out on the race track and keep the lead.
Stewart and Zipadelli elected to stay out, as did second-place Denny Hamlin and third-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. When the race restarted, Hamlin got by Stewart on lap 496 while Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton, who had pitted for new tires, were fast approaching. As Harvick and Stewart battled for second, Harvick's Chevrolet slid up into Stewart's Toyota on lap 499 as they raced into turn three. Contact was made and Stewart spun backward into the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall. The rear of his car was badly misshapen, but after some quick service on pit road, Stewart was able to stay on the lead lap and remain in the race. He finished 14th and was the last car on the lead lap.
While the result was disappointing, it was a respectable finish that actually gained Stewart one spot in the championship point standings. The two-time Sprint Cup champion is now seventh with 656 points, 126 markers out of first.
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch continues to lead the point standings, as his 17th-place finish in the Food City 500 kept him atop the championship pylon. His 30-point lead was hard-earned, as Busch came back from a crash on lap 291 caused when his power steering failed and coated his tires with fluid. The team fixed the leak and the car, but Busch had to drive the remaining 215 laps with no power steering.