Darlington: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart Toughs Out a Top-10 at Tough Ol' Darlington DARLINGTON, S.C., (May 7, 2005) - Gritty determination and a rough-and-tumble ending to Saturday night's Dodge Charger 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway enabled Tony ...

Stewart Toughs Out a Top-10 at Tough Ol' Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C., (May 7, 2005) - Gritty determination and a rough-and-tumble ending to Saturday night's Dodge Charger 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway enabled Tony Stewart to score his fifth top-10 finish of the season. Stewart drove his #20 Home Depot Chevrolet to 10th in the 370-lap race, which ended in overtime as a late-race spin forced NASCAR to finish the race with a green-white-checkered finish.

The 500-mile race was originally slated for 367 laps around the treacherous 1.366-mile Darlington oval. But when Mark Martin spun off turn four to bring out a caution on lap 365, NASCAR extended the race to ensure a green flag finish, something series officials have been doing since last season.

Almost all of the teams pitted for four tires and fuel. The exception was race leader Ryan Newman, who opted to stay out on tires that had at least 40 laps on them. Ken Schrader followed Newman's example, but had far less to lose as he was running near 20th when Martin spun to induce the race's last caution.

When pit stops ended and participants rejoined the field, Newman and Schrader were 1-2, while Carl Edwards was third as he took only two tires to beat everyone else off pit road. All those behind the top-three had four fresh Goodyears, including Stewart, who slotted in at 15th for the final restart.

"We knew it was going to be a wild finish, for sure, with a green/white/checkered like that," said Stewart, who started 15th and ran 15th for much of the night. "We had two guys up front that didn't take tires, one guy that took two tires and then a bunch of us that all took four. We knew it was going to get pretty hairy there. The start by itself was hairy let alone coming down for the checkered."

As the green flag dropped, both Newman and Schrader spun their tires. Edwards and the rest of he field were forced to check up, creating a bottleneck as drivers took the green.

The white flag lap was just as crazy, with Edwards masterfully regaining his car's composure after coming off turn four sideways.

Stewart, meanwhile, used his four fresh tires to his advantage, climbing to 13th with one lap remaining.

Then with the checkered flag in site, Rusty Wallace and Kevin Harvick got together in a battle for ninth - again off turn four - allowing Stewart to charge past a slowing Joe Nemechek and the spinning cars of Wallace and Harvick.

"We got lucky getting three spots coming off (turn) four there at the end with them wrecking," said Stewart.

The top-10 result was a well-earned one for The Home Depot Racing Team, as they had to work hard just to stay on the lead lap.

"We never were really any good all night," said Stewart. "We just kept teetering back-and-forth across the fence between tight and loose. Even when we were really good it really wasn't that good, but it was probably good enough to get into the top-10. It was just a matter of trying to keep the balance right. We just kept working on it and kept going back-and-forth and we kind of got stuck with what we could do with it.

"But I had a pretty good night from the standpoint of being patient. It was just one of those nights where it seemed like once everything kind of strung out a little bit we were alright. We just needed traffic to thin out a little bit so that we could find our groove."

Stewart definitely seems to be in a groove as of late, with the 10th place run at Darlington following his second-place effort two weeks ago at Talladega (Ala.). The 2002 series champion is now seventh in points, 297 markers arrears series leader Jimmie Johnson but only 45 points behind fifth-place Elliott Sadler.

Winning the Dodge Charger 500 was Greg Biffle. The Roush Racing pilot scored his sixth career Nextel Cup victory and his third of the season by leading 10 times for a race-high 176 laps. Following in second was Jeff Gordon, while Kasey Kahne, Martin and Newman rounded-out the top-five. Comprising the rest of the top-10 were Jamie McMurray, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Edwards and Stewart.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the May 14 Chevy American Revolution 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The race begins at 7:35 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FX.

-jgr-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Carl Edwards , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin