Bristol: Tony Stewart race report

Bristol's beatin' and bangin' bests Stewart. BRISTOL, Tenn., (March 23, 2003) - Tony Stewart is on record as saying that Bristol Motor Speedway is his favorite race track, but that was before Sunday's Food City 500. Stewart recorded his first...

Bristol's beatin' and bangin' bests Stewart.

BRISTOL, Tenn., (March 23, 2003) - Tony Stewart is on record as saying that Bristol Motor Speedway is his favorite race track, but that was before Sunday's Food City 500.

Stewart recorded his first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season, finishing 26th in round six of 36 on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. There wasn't a straight piece of sheet metal to be found on his #20 Home Depot Chevrolet as crew members pushed it behind the wall and into the garage area in the waning moments of the 500-lap race.

Stewart started in the 10th spot, and stayed solidly in the top-10 for the first half of the race. But riding in the top-10 didn't guarantee safe passage around the .533-mile oval. Stewart discovered that on lap 68, when Ryan Newman cut down in front of Stewart while entering turn one. Newman spun and Stewart continued, but not without a minor battle scar - a slight dent in the right front fender.

Stewart stayed trouble-free for roughly the next 150 laps. Incident number two came on lap 227, when a parade of cars stacked up in turn one. In the midst of that group were Stewart and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte. Labonte was ahead of Stewart, and when the pack of cars slowed, they resembled bumper cars at the county fair.

Kurt Busch, who was behind Stewart, punted Stewart into Labonte, a move that sent Labonte spinning to the apron. Simultaneously, Matt Kenseth got into the back of Busch - his Roush Racing teammate - a move that sent Busch spinning. When it was over, all involved had slightly reconfigured front and rear bumpers.

Stewart, however, had significant damage to the left rear corner of his Home Depot Chevrolet. Two subsequent trips to pit road were necessary to make repairs, which resulted in Stewart dropping to 22nd when the race restarted on lap 240.

By lap 250 Stewart had made his way to 16th, but not without some more drama. While coming off turn two, the rear wheels broke loose, forcing Stewart to quickly gather his race car back up again. After being sideways for the better part of a corner, spotter Mark Robertson said "Nice save" over the radio. To which Stewart responded, "Must've been all those years of dirt track experience."

Whether on dirt or asphalt, Stewart's next incident would've been hard to avoid.

On lap 256, Jamie McMurray put up a plume of smoke as he crunched the wall and spun down the backstretch. As cars slowed to pick their way through the debris, Stewart pointed his orange and black machine high. At that same moment, Ricky Rudd opted to go high as well. The inevitable contact squeezed Stewart between Rudd's Ford and the wall, with the right side tires of Stewart's Chevrolet climbing the wall before slamming the car back to the ground.

"My steering wheel is about four inches off," radioed a none too happy Stewart.

A pit stop couldn't be made, as track crews were quick in cleaning up the remnants of McMurray's ride. Had Stewart pitted, and enormous amount of track position would've been lost, so Stewart was forced to stay on the race track.

When the race returned to green, Stewart - his voice dripping with sarcasm - said "Oh yeah. She's a gem now."

When lap 343 clicked off the board, Stewart went a lap down, which sounded worse than it actually was, for only six cars would finish the race on the lead lap.

Tenacious driving and solid pit work brought Stewart back into the top-10 on lap 403, and it seemed that despite all the incidents endured on the day, the #20 team would come away with their fifth top-10 finish of the season.

No such luck.

When John Andretti slowed dramatically before entering turn one on lap 425 - right in front of Stewart - the Chevrolet of Joe Nemechek pounded what was left of Stewart's rear bumper, while what was left of Stewart's nose pounded the rear of Andretti's Dodge.

The hood of The Home Depot Chevrolet was bent in half, blocking Stewart's view out the windshield. Coached by his spotter, Stewart made his way toward pit road. There, crew members did what they could to get Stewart back on the race track. The car rolled, sans hood, off pit road. But before Stewart even hit the racing surface, he radioed that his gauges were pegged. With the radiator smashed and an oil line almost certainly kinked, the engine soon overheated. Thirteen laps short of the finish, Stewart's race was over.

"I've never been hit so much in one day," said Stewart, who dropped one spot in points to third, 147 markers behind series leader Kenseth. "Then at the end, the 43 car (Andretti) just stopped, for whatever reason. We tore up the whole front end and cooked the motor trying to finish the race. Bad day - can't wait to get out of here."

Taking his time in leaving Bristol was Busch, who regrouped from his mid-race spin to win the Food City 500 for the second straight year. It was his fifth Winston Cup victory, an accomplishment that brought him from fifth to second in the championship standings, 138 points arrears Kenseth, who finished second. Third went to Labonte, who also rebounded from the same mid-race incident that consumed Busch. Fourth went to Rudd, who was obviously unaffected by his earlier contact with Stewart. And rounding out the top-five was rookie Greg Biffle, who posted his first career top-10 finish.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the March 30 Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Live coverage by FOX begins at 1 p.m. EST.

-jgr/hdr-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jamie McMurray
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing