Stewart Black Flagged at Daytona DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (July 8, 2001) - When the checkered flag waved in Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Tony Stewart's ...
Stewart Black Flagged at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (July 8, 2001) - When the checkered flag waved in Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Tony Stewart's #20 Home Depot Pontiac crossed the start/finish line sixth in the running order.
But it would be a 26th place finish that Stewart would be credited with, as NASCAR officials penalized the Joe Gibbs Racing driver 20 positions for failing to heed the black flag that he had received four laps from the finish of the 160-lap race.
After Stewart had bided his time for the majority of the event, staying close to his 36th place starting spot, he began making his move to the front of the field after his final pit stop of the evening on lap 139.
But on lap 155 Stewart's charge to the front derailed.
While racing in fourth in the lead pack and gunning for third-place Johnny Benson, Stewart was forced low on the inside of the race track as Benson, on the outside of Stewart, also moved low.
The move pushed The Home Depot Pontiac below the yellow line that encircles the very bottom of the entire race track. The yellow boundary is best described as the marker between the racing groove and no man's land, and in the mandatory pre-race driver's meeting, NASCAR made it clear that no driver would be permitted to race below that line.
Consequently, when Stewart's #20 machine crossed the yellow line, he was promptly shown the black flag on lap 156.
The infraction meant that Stewart would have to come to the pits for a stop-and-go penalty while the rest of his counterparts continued to race under green.
To Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli, the black flag penalty was unacceptable, for it was their contention that that they were forced below the yellow line by the #10 car of Benson. If Stewart had lifted, Zipadelli argued to a nearby NASCAR official, another wreck could have occurred if someone rammed into the rear of The Home Depot Pontiac.
With the laps winding down and bewilderment amongst crew members over their predicament, Stewart stayed out on the race track, adamant that the penalty levied against him was unjust.
When the race ended, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the victor, followed by Michael Waltrip, Elliott Sadler, Ward Burton and Bobby Labonte. Stewart followed his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate in sixth, but it would be in spirit only.
As soon as he parked his car in the garage area, Stewart stormed back to the team's transporter, holing himself up for a short while in the lounge.
Meanwhile, Zipadelli and car owner Gibbs made their way to the NASCAR trailer, waiting to voice their side of the story to NASCAR president Mike Helton, Winston Cup director Gary Nelson and race director David Hoots.
When the three finally arrived, discussions began, and soon all involved were in a closed-door meeting inside the NASCAR hauler that lasted for nearly 30 minutes.
When the meeting finally broke up, the penalty stood, with Stewart scored as the last car on the lead lap in 26th position - a loss of 65 points. Had Stewart obeyed the black flag and made his stop-and-go penalty, 26th place is where he most likely would have ended up. As it was, NASCAR's reasoning for relegating Stewart to 26th was for his failure to recognize the black flag. Either way, it left Stewart fuming and Zipadelli explaining.
"We were penalized for being forced below the yellow line," said Zipadelli, calm and collected despite the emotion surrounding the situation. "That was their rule. Do I agree with it? I do, but I think there are some circumstances at times that put people in that situation. It's a very sensitive situation and we were one of those people. We have to live and go on with the decision that they made.
"It's costly for us to go from sixth to 26th with the points being as important as they are and honestly feeling like we still had a shot at the championship. With the '40' car (Sterling Marling) and the '24' car (Jeff Gordon) having a bad day and the '88' (Dale Jarrett) and all of them finishing behind us, it could have been a huge night for us. Instead, it turns out to be one of the most disappointing nights in my career."
When asked if Benson had forced Stewart below the line, Zipadelli replied candidly. "He did and NASCAR doesn't debate that. You can't debate it. But the thing is we advanced our position because we passed the '10' car going below the yellow line when he forced us there.
"What do you do? You lift? You don't? You cause a wreck? You spin the '10' car out because he was moving from one lane to the other? But, that's not the rule. You've got to treat people with respect. It's three laps to go and we're racing for a million dollars. I wouldn't expect my driver to lift in those circumstances.
"Tony didn't intentionally go down there to pass him (Benson), but we did go below the line and that's what the rule says. It doesn't say, 'depends how you get there,' it just says, 'if you do go below the line.' If you look at it that way, we're getting the penalty that is coming to us.
"Tony's upset because Tony is a fierce competitor, no different than myself," continued Zipadelli. "To us, we didn't think it was fair in the way we're looking at it. That's the important thing. We were looking at it one way and we don't think it's fair. But, if you look at it the way they (NASCAR) are, it's almost cut and dried. We just went in to debate our side. A decision is a decision.
"They did say in the driver's meeting that if you did go below the yellow line and they caught you that they would penalize you. All I asked of them (NASCAR) was to be fair. I don't know if I agree with their decision, but I understand their reasoning. Obviously, I'm going to be partial in the way that I see it because, here is my investment. I understand that their reasoning is that if they made a rule and they didn't enforce it, then their rules wouldn't mean anything. So, on both sides of it, it's one of those judgment calls and one of those situations. We've come out on the end of it and that's costly. But we'll just go on. We'll go to Chicago."
Heading into the inaugural Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Stewart maintains his fourth-place championship point standing, 201 points behind leader Jeff Gordon. The race, set to begin July 15 at 2:30 p.m. EDT, will be televised live on NBC.