DeJÃ VU FOR SMOKE IN COKE 600 Cut Tire Takes Sure Win from Tony Stewart and No. 20 Team at Charlotte In last year's Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Tony Stewart's shot at victory was undone by fuel mileage. In this year's...
DeJà VU FOR SMOKE IN COKE 600
Cut Tire Takes Sure Win from Tony Stewart and No. 20 Team at Charlotte
In last year's Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Tony Stewart's shot at victory was undone by fuel mileage. In this year's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, fuel mileage wasn't an issue, but a cut right front tire was.
Stewart had his first Sprint Cup victory of the 2008 season and the 33rd of his career in sight as he led Kasey Kahne by more than five seconds in the waning laps of Sunday night's 400-lap affair. But when Stewart radioed crew chief Greg Zipadelli that he had a flat right front tire with less than three laps to go, victory escaped faster than the air from that tire. The subsequent unscheduled pit stop dropped Stewart from first to 18th and gift-wrapped the win for Kahne.
"We got a flat -- another tire that wouldn't hold air," said an exasperated Zipadelli. "It's hard to believe. There was no tire wear at all. We must have run something over or had a small leak or something and it blew out because it happened pretty quick. We lost a tire with a five-and-a-half second lead. I don't even know what to say. I'm so frustrated. I feel bad for everybody at this Home Depot team. We kept digging and all day we did a good job. We knew we needed to keep our car where it was and it would be good at the end and we did exactly that and it just fell short."
The disappointing result marked the second straight Coca-Cola 600 where Stewart and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team saw victory slip from their grasp.
In 2007, Stewart led twice for 55 laps and was leading handily with less than 10 laps remaining before having to pit for fuel just seven laps short of the checkered flag. He was two-and-a-half laps shy of making it to the finish, and it appeared that all other contending teams were in similar predicaments. But other teams did, in fact, gamble that they could make it to the finish, and when the checkered flag dropped on last year's Coca-Cola 600, Stewart finished sixth while Casey Mears collected his first career Sprint Cup win by out-fueling his competitors.
In 2008, fuel was not an issue. Zipadelli had calculated the fuel mileage for the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota to a tee. They pitted for four tires and fuel while under caution on lap 300, made a fuel-only stop again under caution on lap 330, and then timed their gas-and-go pit stop perfectly on lap 388, getting out well ahead of Kahne, who had come in for a splash of fuel four laps earlier.
Stewart, who had now led four times for 23 laps, was literally and figuratively in the driver's seat with a lead that seemed insurmountable.
"I was thinking second," said Kahne, who won the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte the week before. "I saw Tony slow up. I thought he was out of gas. I couldn't believe it."