Stewart Nabs First Win of 2004 Home Depot Pilot Dominates at Chicagoland, Leading Five Times for 160 Laps JOLIET, Ill., (July 11, 2004) - With a dominating performance in Sunday's Tropicana 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Chicagoland ...
Stewart Nabs First Win of 2004
Home Depot Pilot Dominates at Chicagoland, Leading Five Times for 160 Laps
JOLIET, Ill., (July 11, 2004) - With a dominating performance in Sunday's Tropicana 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, Tony Stewart scored his first victory of 2004 and the 18th of his career. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing led five times for 160 laps around the 1.5-mile oval, including the final 27 of the 267-lap race.
But it wasn't without controversy, as Stewart got into the back of Kasey Kahne's Dodge following a lap 127 restart. Kahne, who was the leader, spun around and tagged the outside retaining wall, while six other cars were collected in the accident.
"I don't know what happened on that restart with Kasey," said Stewart, who was in third place for the restart behind the cars of Kahne and second-place Sterling Marlin. "I got a really good jump, got past the '40' (Marlin) and got back in line. As we came up to the wall, his (Kahne's) car wiggled for some reason before I even got to him. I don't know if he was shifting or missed a shift or what happened, but all of a sudden he backed up to us and we ran into the back of him. It was my fault that I ran into him, but I don't know what caused him to check up. I hate to have something like that happen. We had such a good car it wasn't going to matter anyway. We didn't need to turn him around to get to victory lane. We were going to win this race no matter what."
No one argued with that point.
Stewart took the lead for the first time on lap 22 after starting 10th in his backup car. His primary car was wrecked during a crash in practice on Friday, but his backup chassis proved just as, if not more, formidable as his primary. By lap 60 he had a four-second lead over his nearest pursuer - series points leader Jimmie Johnson.
Stewart continued to pace the field until lap 83 when a round of green flag pit stops took place. Four tires and a full tank of fuel were all that were added to The Home Depot Chevrolet, and when the pit stops cycled through, Stewart was back on point at lap 104.
When the yellow caution flag waved for oil on the track on lap 121, all the leaders headed to pit road. Stewart took four tires as did most others, while Kahne took only two tires and Marlin went with a fuel only stop. That set up the Kahne, Marlin, Stewart restart on lap 127 which led to the incident with Kahne.
"Only Kasey and I know what happened," said Stewart. "I haven't talked to Kasey. Kasey is really the only one that truly knows what happened."
Said Kahne about the incident: "We had a pretty good race car. When we took off I was in third gear and right as I was getting ready to shift into fourth I started getting a little loose. As I pulled into fourth gear my car turned right and I went into the wall."
Stewart motored on, leading the field to green when the race restarted on lap 135. But with Stewart again driving away from his challengers, Kahne's crew chief Tommy Baldwin and several members of his pit crew decided to challenge the #20 team.
Baldwin climbed the #20 team's pit box where crew chief Greg Zipadelli sat and engaged in a heated shouting match. Meanwhile, the number of crew members from Kahne's team increased, clogging the #20 team's pit area. A shoving match ensued when Kahne's crew refused to leave the pit area, which escalated when Baldwin stepped off the #20 team's pit box to join the fracas. NASCAR officials finally broke up the melee, sending Kahne's crew back to their pit stall.
Normalcy returned, in the pits and on the track. Zipadelli resumed giving Stewart his lap times over the radio and Stewart continued his dominating run.
The only hiccup to that domination came following a round of pit stops while under caution on lap 210. There, Stewart took four tires while Marlin and Jeremy Mayfield - Kahne's Evernham Motorsports teammate - took two tires. That put Stewart in third when the race restarted on lap 214, with Mayfield leading and Marlin in second.
Marlin was slow on the restart and Stewart quickly got by him to take second. But Mayfield was as stout as he'd been all day, and he held the lead for 26 laps before Stewart was finally able to make a convincing run on him for the lead on lap 241.
Stewart began driving away, and a lap 246 caution for debris and another on lap 254 for an accident did little to slow him. He got the perfect jump on each restart, and when the checkered flag fell he had a 2.925-second margin of victory.
"The good thing about Joe Gibbs Racing is that our backup cars are just as good as our primary cars," said Stewart in reference to the backup car he used Sunday, as it was the same car that won the pole and led the most laps in finishing second to Ryan Newman at last year's Chicagoland race. "In this series, just about everyone's teams are that organized and that professional so they're not bringing something that is three- or four-tenths off. This was proof of that."
Other proof that Stewart's day was a strong one was his 190-point tally, the maximum amount of points you can get in a single Nextel Cup race. Stewart led the most laps to gain the 10 valuable bonus points that go along with it - the fourth time he's done so in 2004 - thus solidifying his fourth-place standing in the championship points chase.
Stewart is now only 60 points arrears third-place Jeff Gordon, while gaining a 97-point cushion on fifth-place Matt Kenseth. Johnson continues to lead the points with a 302-point lead over Stewart, a 242-point advantage over Gordon and a 105-point margin over second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Finishing second in the Tropicana 400 was Johnson, while Dale Jarrett, Gordon and Mayfield rounded out the top-five. Terry Labonte, Marlin, Joe Nemechek, Michael Waltrip and Kevin Harvick comprised the rest of the top-10.
The Nextel Cup Series takes a weekend off before heading to New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon for the New England 300 on July 25. The race starts at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by TNT.