Stewart Resilient Following Daytona Disappointment DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 17, 2002) - "Let's see what they say when we win the championship." Those were the resilient words of Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart as he left the garage...
Stewart Resilient Following Daytona Disappointment
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 17, 2002) - "Let's see what they say when we win the championship." Those were the resilient words of Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart as he left the garage area following his lap two exit from the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
Stewart, winner of last Sunday's Budweiser Shootout and Friday's IROC race, was the pick of many to notch his 13th career win in the Daytona 500. But instead of finishing first, Stewart was the first driver to fall out of the 200-lap contest.
"Something happened to the motor. I just don't know what happened," said Stewart, remarkably calm after having been dealt such a cruel hand. "It laid down on the start a little bit, then as the lap went on, it laid down even more.
"I'm glad I didn't cause a wreck trying to get off the track. The hard part was that it laid down going into the banking and there was nowhere to really go, other than around the bottom of the track. I'm glad everybody got by us clean."
It was a bitter pill to swallow after an impressive Speedweeks where Stewart's worst finish was second - the Gatorade Twin 125s on Thursday. With such a strong performance profile in such a short period of time, some speculation centered on who could beat Stewart rather than who could win outright.
For Stewart, that speculation might as well be directed to his championship aspirations. While he leaves Daytona 43rd in points, he knows full well that there are 35 point races remaining in a season that will stretch through November.
If anyone can return from such a setback it's Stewart. Just last year Stewart left the 2.5-mile speedway 36th in points after a violent crash 30 laps from the finish. But nine months later when the 2001 season ended, Stewart was second in points to four-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.
In fact, Stewart's best finish at Daytona is 17th, scored during his sophomore year in 2000. Yet he has still managed to finish in the top-10 in points in each of his three years on the circuit. He finished fourth in points in 1999 and sixth in 2000.
While another top-10 points finish is more of an expectation than a goal for The Home Depot Racing Team, their track record proves their ability to come back from adversity. A championship, the one true goal of the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing outfit, is still within their grasp.
"There's still a lot of racing left," said Stewart. "No one better count us out."
Stewart's words proved prophetic. With various multi-car accidents toward the end of the 500-mile event leaving only 17 lead lap cars running at the finish, Stewart's 43rd place finish blended in with the disappointing runs by other championship hopefuls.
Accidents took out such combatants as Dale Earnhardt Jr., (finished 29th), Bobby Labonte (34th), Kevin Harvick (36th), Ricky Rudd (38th) and Jeremy Mayfield (39th). While still running at the end, Dale Jarrett (14th) and Rusty Wallace (18th) endured their share of frustration as well.
Championship contenders who were able to emerge relatively unscathed were Gordon (9th), Sterling Marlin (8th) and Mark Martin (6th).
One driver who managed to dodge all the carnage and take advantage of the situation was Ward Burton, who scored the biggest win of his career by wheeling a Dodge to victory in the Daytona 500. Following him to the line were Elliott Sadler, veteran Geoffrey Bodine, Kurt Busch and last year's Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Feb. 24 Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. Live coverage by FOX begins at 1 p.m. EST.