Daytona II: Tony Stewart race report

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (July 5, 2003) - Tony Stewart drove his ...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (July 5, 2003) - Tony Stewart drove his #20 Declaration of Independence Road Trip/Home Depot Chevrolet to a 21st place finish in Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart started the 160-lap affair from 13th in the field and soon made a presence for himself in the lead draft when eight cars broke away from the rest of the pack. With his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate - Bobby Labonte - behind him, Stewart drove to fifth as Kevin Harvick led the way with Jeff Gordon, Elliott Sadler and Jimmie Johnson in between.

But Stewart's presence up front was quickly interrupted when a series of green flag pit stops took place beginning on lap 35. Stewart ran out of gas midway between turns three and four before making his scheduled pit stop on lap 37. A quick two-tire change was made while the fuel tank was filled, but with no fuel running through the carburetor, getting the engine restarted in the #20 machine proved to be a chore. When it finally refired, Stewart rejoined the race in 41st.

Stewart then had to make the best of a bad situation, taking the lead in a four-car draft to maintain his presence on the lead lap. Stewart paced Ward Burton, Casey Mears and Larry Foyt, all the while, desperately waiting for a caution.

That came in a big way on lap 74, when a seven-car accident in turn two brought out the much needed yellow. Stewart had to dive way low to avoid the mess, and he did so without a scratch. When the race restarted on lap 79, Stewart was eighth.

But that too was short-lived, for five laps later Stewart had dropped to 19th. "This thing just feels like it's on top of the race track," said Stewart. "It won't plant itself."

Despite chassis adjustments on the next two rounds of pit stops, no help was found to alleviate the car's chassis woes. Stewart had to soldier on to the finish - his 21st place result maintaining his 11th position in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings. Stewart is now 49 points behind 10th place Sterling Marlin, while the gap between Stewart and point leader Matt Kenseth widened to 602 points.

Rookie driver Greg Biffle pulled off a bit of an upset, taking the win in the Pepsi 400 after managing his fuel mileage better than anyone else. It was Biffle's first career win in 23 Winston Cup starts, allowing him to become the 14th different race winner in 2003.

Finishing second was Biffle's Roush Racing teammate Jeff Burton, while Ricky Rudd and Terry Labonte came home third and fourth, respectively. Bobby Labonte, who had been pressuring Biffle for the win, wound up fifth after running out of fuel en route to the checkered flag.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the July 13 Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Live coverage by NBC begins at 3 p.m. EDT.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Sterling Marlin , Casey Mears , Larry Foyt , Jimmie Johnson , Elliott Sadler
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing