Charlotte: Tony Stewart race report

STEWART EXPERIENCES PAIN AT THE PUMP Charlotte Win Evaporates after Late Race Pit for Fuel Tony Stewart joined most every other American feeling pain at the pump this Memorial Day weekend. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe...

STEWART EXPERIENCES PAIN AT THE PUMP
Charlotte Win Evaporates after Late Race Pit for Fuel

Tony Stewart joined most every other American feeling pain at the pump this Memorial Day weekend. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) was leading handily with less than 10 laps remaining in Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway before having to pit for fuel just seven laps short of the 400-lap distance.

Stewart needed to stop because he was two-and-a-half laps shy of making it to the checkered flag. Other teams gambled that they could make it to the finish, and when the flag dropped on this year's Coca-Cola 600, Stewart finished sixth while Casey Mears collected his first career Nextel Cup win by out-fueling his competitors.

"We just had to pit for gas and ended up outside the top-five," said a subdued Stewart after the race.

Stewart, who led twice for 55 laps, had reason to be morose after seeing yet another potential victory slip from his grasp. The two-time Nextel Cup champion has had at least five would-be wins go to someone else -- Daytona (Fla.): led 35 laps, finished 43rd; Atlanta: led 121 laps, finished second; Bristol (Tenn.): led 257 laps, finished 35th; Phoenix: led 132 laps, finished second; and now, Charlotte.

"If we didn't have an opportunity to win it, then I would've said that sixth-place and leading laps was awesome," said Greg Zipadelli, crew chief for the No. 20 team. "But sitting where we're at right now, it seems like everything is stacked against us. There's probably four or five (races) we could've won easily this year and things just didn't go our way. This team's been through it before and if we continue to run as good as we are, we'll be there at the end of the year and hopefully get our wins when we need them the most."

The opportunity to win was due in large part to the team's perseverance throughout the Charlotte race weekend.

Stewart struggled to get comfortable while wheeling his race car on Charlotte's slick 1.5-mile oval with the rock-hard tire provided by Goodyear. And Zipadelli struggled to find a chassis setup that would make his driver comfortable.

"We didn't have a great practice yesterday with the heat and as slick as it was, so we elected to quit early and kind of put our car close to where we were in the All-Star race with some more adjustments in it for pit stops," said Zipadelli, alluding to the non-point race at Charlotte the team participated in last week. "Everybody did a good job tonight. We were just a little off on fuel mileage. I didn't feel we could make it. We were two-and-a-half laps short.

"That's the problem -- you run so fast and you lead all those laps and you get the worst fuel mileage. That's just part of racing. We wanted to come in here and race all day and try to put ourselves in position for a top-10 and then hopefully a top-five at the end of the day. Coming into it I would've been excited to finish sixth, because we haven't been that good here at Charlotte in the last few years. But to see that we were probably a second- or third-place car, at worst, all night long, it's a little disappointing. But, that's kind of the way our season has been."

Despite the disappointment, it was a good night overall for JGR, as all three of its teams finished in the top-10.

Stewart's JGR teammates -- Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley -- finished second and ninth, respectively, in the Coca-Cola 600. Yeley's runner-up result was the best of his career, and Hamlin's run marked the 30th top-10 of his career and his seventh this season.

Hamlin remains the lead JGR driver in the championship point race, as his ninth-place effort kept him fourth in the standings, 239 points behind first-place Jeff Gordon. Stewart and Yeley occupy the sixth and 15th positions, respectively. Stewart held steady at sixth and is 391 points out of first. Yeley's second-place finish gained him five positions, putting him just 59 points behind 12th-place Jamie McMurray -- the cutoff mark to make the final, 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the June 3 Autism Speaks 400 presented by Visa at Dover (Del.) International Speedway The race begins at 1:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by FOX.

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Casey Mears , Jamie McMurray , J.J. Yeley , Denny Hamlin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing