Second for Stewart at Michigan. BROOKLYN, Mich., (Aug. 18, 2002) - Tony Stewart scored a strong second-place finish in the Pepsi 400 at Michigan International Speedway to move within 84 points of NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point...
Second for Stewart at Michigan.
BROOKLYN, Mich., (Aug. 18, 2002) - Tony Stewart scored a strong second-place finish in the Pepsi 400 at Michigan International Speedway to move within 84 points of NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point leader Sterling Marlin - the closest Stewart has been to the point lead all season.
It was also Stewart's best finish at the two-mile oval since winning the spring race in 2000, ending a string of results in which Stewart had finished no better than 16th.
"I'm pretty happy with today," said Stewart, who started the 200-lap event in the 24th slot. "The way we ran here the last couple of times has not been anything like the way we ran in '99 or 2000. We kind of feel like we're back on track. We got a really good start. I think in the first five laps we passed 15 cars. We got going really good and just settled into a rhythm."
It was indeed the fifth circuit where Stewart was in the top-10, and after 21 laps, he was in the top-five. But after a restart on lap 85 following a routine, four-tire pit stop, Stewart's #20 Home Depot Pontiac quickly drifted back to 20th. "This thing feels like it's all over the place!" called Stewart over the radio. Slowly, yet inexplicably, the #20 machine returned to its front-running form, and by lap 117 Stewart was back in the top-10.
"When we went back to green, I don't know if I just didn't clean the tires off enough or what, but the whole first lap, both corners, the car was really wiggly and just all over the place," said Stewart. "I'll bet we lost 15 spots in one lap. I don't know what was going on there, but it did the same thing that it did at Indy when we lost eight spots in the last four laps. Whatever it is, it's a problem we're going to have to look out for in the future.
"But to come back from that after losing all those spots, just to keep working our way forward, I think it really shows that the team had a good day. I had a good day in the car and Greg (Zipadelli, crew chief) kept making good adjustments on the car."
Beside dropping back to 14th following a two-tire pit stop on lap 143 in which a handful of cars at the tail end of the lead lap elected to stay out, thereby leapfrogging Stewart in the running order, Stewart was never in jeopardy of losing the front pack.
Shortly after a restart on lap 168, Stewart held off a strong charge for second by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Once that skirmish was over and Stewart emerged the victor, he set his sights on race leader Jeff Burton. But Burton's engine began to expire in the waning laps, while at the same moment a stout Dale Jarrett passed Stewart for second.
"I though he (Burton) blew up," said Stewart, "and I pulled down the first time I was behind him and it happened. But then it happened a couple more times. Then I saw it happen when Jarrett was behind him, so we knew he had a problem. That's probably the reason why we got by him is because his motor laid down there at the end. He had so much water coming out of the engine it looked like a fountain at the fair.
"We weren't perfect at the end, by any means," added Stewart. "But we were as good as anyone else who took tires, if not better than anybody else who took two tires. We may have just gotten beat by tires today, but if the thing would have gone green we might have won the race. You never know."
Jarrett went on to take the victory for the second time this season and the 30th of his career. Stewart crossed the stripe 2.285 seconds behind Jarrett, while Kevin Harvick, a sputtering Burton and Mark Martin finished third through fifth, respectively.
Point leader Marlin finished a sound sixth, but lost some more grip on the championship, as Martin is now only 43 points behind in second and rookie Jimmie Johnson is 60 points arrears in third. Stewart's fourth-place standing is fairly solid, as 66 points separate him from fifth-place Jeff Gordon.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Aug. 24 Sharpie 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Live coverage by TNT begins at 8 p.m. EDT.