Darlington II: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart settles for 12th at Darlington Home Depot pilot reclaims 10th spot in championship point standings DARLINGTON, S.C., (Aug. 31, 2003) - The track "Too Tough to Tame," the phrase used to market the venerable Darlington Raceway, lived up to...

Stewart settles for 12th at Darlington
Home Depot pilot reclaims 10th spot in championship point standings

DARLINGTON, S.C., (Aug. 31, 2003) - The track "Too Tough to Tame," the phrase used to market the venerable Darlington Raceway, lived up to its reputation during the final Labor Day running of the Mountain Dew Southern 500.

For Tony Stewart, however, he was driving the car "Too Tough to Tame." Constant adjustments made by the over-the-wall crew kept the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet in the top-20 the entire afternoon, but a 12th place finish was the best Stewart and Co. could muster after starting the 367-lap race from 20th.

Stewart flirted with the top-10 on a few occasions, but he was unable to put together a solid charge to the front. Handling issues with the #20 machine plagued the team throughout the duration of the race.

"We're a little tight entry to center," radioed Stewart on lap 45, referring to his line through the corners of the 1.366-mile oval.

Initially, Stewart's lap times were consistent with the leaders. When the caution flag waved on lap 73, crew chief Greg Zipadelli called for just a minor air pressure adjustment in the right front tire, coupled with a track bar adjustment.

Stewart would restart 12th on lap 77, quickly grabbing 11th from Kurt Busch by lap 80. The tweaks made during the stop seem to do the trick, but Stewart soon began to lose spots, and by lap 88, was back in 14th.

Stewart's back-and-forth surges would continue, as would the back-and-forth adjustments made to the car. The longer the runs though, the better the car seem to do. But at Darlington, tires wear-out fast, and the opportunities for long runs are few and far between.

With many more laps still ahead of him, Stewart's attitude continued to be conservative and patient. He continued to communicate with crew chief Greg Zipadelli as they tried to find the proper balance that best suited the chassis.

Patience from the rest of the field, however, was hard to find. The first caution of the day waived on just the fifth circuit, as the cars of Jason Leffler, Christian Fittipaldi, Michael Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Tony Raines wadded up in turn 3. The tricky Darlington oval collected another sample of sheet metal in turn three on lap 167, as the cars of Casey Mears, Jeff Gordon, Kenny Wallace, Johnny Benson, Dave Blaney and Ken Schrader came together. All told, there were a total of ten cautions.

In the end, Stewart drove to the best of his ability, staking his 14th top-15 finish of the year. The 12th place result bumped Stewart from 11th to 10th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings, with just 191 points separating Stewart from fifth-place Jeff Gordon. A far more daunting 782 points separates Stewart from series leader Matt Kenseth.

The majority of the race was dominated by sophomore driver Ryan Newman, who sat on the pole and led 120 laps before accidentally hitting his steering wheel-mounted kill switch - a button used to cut power to the engine in the event of a stuck throttle. Upon realizing what happened, Newman returned to the track eight laps down, finishing the day in 26th position.

Newman's misfortunes opened the door for Terry Labonte, who scored his first win since the 1999 March race at Texas Motor Speedway. Rounding out the top-five were the cars of Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Bill Elliott.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Sept. 6 Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Live coverage by TNT begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Kenny Wallace , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Christian Fittipaldi , Johnny Benson , Tony Raines , Jimmie Johnson