Stewart pulls surprise, qualifies second By Shawn A. Akers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 1999) You're a rookie, and you've never even attempted to qualify for a NASCAR Winston Cup race. So, Tony Stewart's chances of cracking the top-10, much...
Stewart pulls surprise, qualifies second By Shawn A. Akers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 1999) You're a rookie, and you've never even attempted to qualify for a NASCAR Winston Cup race. So, Tony Stewart's chances of cracking the top-10, much less the top-five, in Bud Pole Qualifying for the Daytona 500, were pretty slim, right?
Oh ye of little faith.
Not only did Stewart, the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac -- who has never driven a lap of NASCAR Winston Cup competition -- grab one of the front row starting positions for next Sunday's "Great American Race," he came just short of winning the Bud Pole for the race as he was edged out by two-time defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon by .111 seconds.
The 1997 Indy Racing League champion, who got his first extended stock car experience in a limited schedule in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division last year, wasn't shocked by his qualifying run of 194.599 mph, but it was, to say the least, a bit of a surprise.
"When you've got a great owner like Joe Gibbs, a great sponsor like Home Depot and an awesome teammate like Bobby Labonte, it just shows when you've got those key ingredients that you can come here to Daytona and have a great qualifying effort," Stewart said. "I was shaking when I got out of the car. I couldn't believe it. I knew I had the team all along that was capable of running up front, but to come here and do this, it's unbelievable. It's a great coming out party for us, that's for sure."
Gordon himself, who turned in a fast lap of 195.067 mph to grab his first career Daytona 500 Bud Pole, wasn't expecting Stewart to be the man to knock off the top spot on Saturday.
"We had seen him (Stewart) make some good laps in practice in the morning, but I don't think many thought he would be one of the guys to beat," Gordon said. "After he ran his laps, I don't think we thought that we could beat his time.
"Fortunately we got things together on the second lap. But, I'm excited for Tony and Joe Gibbs Racing. That's exciting to be able to bring him in this series and I think we're going to see a lot out of him."
Stewart was the 44th of 58 NASCAR Winston Cup cars to qualify on Saturday. Stewart was making a bid to become only the third rookie ever in the history of the 41 years of the Daytona 500 to win the Bud Pole. Loy Allen was the first, in 1994, and Mike Skinner was the second, in 1997.
Ironically, it was Skinner whom Stewart knocked off the top spot. Skinner, the 29th car to qualify, blazed around the 2.5-mile tri-oval in his No. 31 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet in a fast lap of 194.536 mph.
Skinner, who has two career Bud Poles at Daytona International Speedway, eventually wound up finishing fourth in first-round qualifying Saturday and will have a solid starting spot for his Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Race next Thursday.
"We're still satisfied because it'll get us a good starting spot for the race," Skinner said of his qualifying effort. "The car felt good, but it got a little loose in three and four. I held it on the floor and turned the wheel. It worked out good." Now that Stewart is guaranteed a front-row starting spot for the Daytona 500, he said he can relax a bit more in his Gatorade 125 and even try some things he and the team might not normally.
"We can use that as a test session," Stewart said. "We don't have to rely on having a good finish to make the show. In certain situations, we can now concentrate on saving the race car and not come back with a bent up race car in the 125s."
Source: NASCAR Online