Despite Daytona Dominance, Stewart Seventh in 500 Home Depot Driver Leads Most Laps for Second Straight Year DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 20, 2005) - Tony Stewart was ready to add the biggest win of his career to an already impressive racing...
Despite Daytona Dominance, Stewart Seventh in 500
Home Depot Driver Leads Most Laps for Second Straight Year
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 20, 2005) - Tony Stewart was ready to add the biggest win of his career to an already impressive racing resume with a dominating performance in Sunday's Daytona 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Instead, he just added to a footnote of trivial Daytona 500 history.
After leading seven times for 107 laps, nearly triple the amount of laps led by anyone else, Stewart was forced to settle for a seventh-place result in the 2005 season opener. It was the second straight year in which Stewart led the most laps in the Daytona 500, as he led seven times for a race-high 97 laps during the 2004 edition, only to finish second to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The race leader at the halfway point of the Daytona 500 hasn't won since the late Davey Allison in 1992 - a 13-year span. And unfortunately for Stewart, he's credited with years 12 and 13.
"I think we ran as good a race as we possibly could've run," said Stewart, now seventh in points after just one round of the 36-race Nextel Cup schedule. "At least we had a car that was good enough to lead laps. You don't lead laps like that if you don't have a good race car. The guys did a great job over the winter getting The Home Depot Chevrolet ready for the 500. We didn't win, but we ran well and we're leaving here with a good start to the season."
Stewart's dominant run came as little surprise to those in attendance. His #20 Home Depot Chevrolet had already proven formidable, as it handily carried Stewart to victory in Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying race. And augmenting Stewart's strong race car was personal momentum, as Stewart visited victory lane on Saturday when he captured his first career Busch Series victory in a Chevrolet fielded by friend and fellow Nextel Cup competitor Kevin Harvick.
In the 500 it took Stewart just four laps to advance into the lead from his fourth-place starting spot. And from there Stewart was a machine, leading laps 4-15, 88-105, 109-135, 139-155, lap 162, 164-194 and finally lap 196.
Staying at the front during a restrictor plate race takes a little help, and constantly tucked on the back bumper of The Home Depot Chevrolet was the #15 Chevrolet of two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip. But when Waltrip's engine let go on lap 161, Stewart's drafting partner was gone. "Looks like it's just me, myself and I," said Stewart on the radio.
With the race under caution to clean up the oil left from Waltrip's blown engine, Stewart glanced in his rearview mirror to gauge who might become his next drafting partner. Mark Martin said he was in, as message relayed between the spotter's of Martin and Stewart, while rookie Martin Truex Jr. also pledged his support. But when the race went green on lap 165, both drivers dropped out of the top-10. Stewart was alone with the likes of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Scott Riggs.
But the green flag racing didn't last long, as caution upon caution interrupted the flow of the race. Stewart's last lap led was the 196th circuit of what should've been a 200-lap race. Earnhardt, suddenly a force after being quiet for much of the race, took the point from Stewart on lap 197 as he drafted past on the high side. Gordon followed, eventually overtaking Earnhardt before jettisoning Stewart to third.
The caution flag waved one final time for debris on lap 199, forcing the race into overtime with a green-white-checker finish that extended the race distance to 203 laps. In a last lap dash to the finish, Gordon held off challenges from Earnhardt and Busch while Stewart rubbed fenders with Johnson in a fight for fifth. Johnson emerged victorious in that skirmish, with Stewart taking seventh as Martin slipped into the sixth spot. The two continued to rub fenders on the cool down lap, prompting NASCAR to call both drivers to the NASCAR hauler for a post-race discussion.
Stewart and Johnson emerged from the meeting in nonchalant fashion, standing side-by-side as they calmly discussed what transpired on the race track.
"We're racing and it's the last lap of the Daytona 500," said Stewart. "I was mad he pinched me into the '10' (Riggs). We went down there and we both bumped into each other. We both did the same thing to each other.
"NASCAR more than anything wanted to make sure it wasn't something that was going to linger overnight. It's over with. I think NASCAR just wanted to make sure there wasn't anything big happening out if it."
"NASCAR was kind of joking about it inside the trailer saying that they just wanted to make sure there wasn't anything to start off the season, and if there was they wanted to squash it now," said Johnson. "It's just hard racing. We both came to the finish line doing all we can."
"We both had good weeks here and we both finished in the top-10," added Stewart. "He finished fifth and I finished seventh. We're both leaving here in a good situation in points."
Leaving Daytona in the best point situation is Gordon, who in capturing his third Daytona 500 leads the championship point standings by 15 markers over second-place Busch. The top-five in points reflect the top-five finishers of the race, with Earnhardt in third, Riggs in fourth and Johnson in fifth. By virtue of earning the 10 bonus points available for leading the most laps, Stewart leapfrogged sixth-place Martin to take sixth in points. Martin holds down the seventh spot while Sterling Marlin, Kevin Lepage and Rusty Wallace round-out the rest of the top-10 in points via their eighth, ninth, and 10th place race finishes, respectively.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Feb. 27 Auto Club 500 at California Speedway. Live coverage by FOX begins at 3 p.m. EST.