Stewart Second in Twin 125, Starts Sixth in 500 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 14, 2002) - Tony Stewart gave pundits even more reason to pick him as a threat to win the Daytona 500 when he finished a strong second in his Gatorade 125-mile qualifying...
Stewart Second in Twin 125, Starts Sixth in 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 14, 2002) - Tony Stewart gave pundits even more reason to pick him as a threat to win the Daytona 500 when he finished a strong second in his Gatorade 125-mile qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.
Just four days from his second straight Budweiser Shootout victory at the 2.5-mile oval, Stewart led a total of three laps and dogged race winner Michael Waltrip throughout the 50-lap sprint. Waltrip, last year's Daytona 500 champion, proved that his Dale Earnhardt Inc. machine hadn't lost anything since they visited victory lane last February.
Still, it was Stewart who gave Waltrip all he could handle.
"Michael Waltrip did a great job today," said Stewart, whose run earned him the sixth starting position for the Daytona 500. "His car got real wide toward the end of the race. He really raced me well. He's a got a good car too. He's one of about 15 cars that have a legitimate shot at winning this thing on Sunday."
Stewart started 10th by virtue of his 20th place qualifying effort on Saturday. He quickly made his way toward the front, taking the outside lane with drafting help from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte. Two lines of traffic formed, with Stewart shooting for the lead.
He passed Jeremy Mayfield for second on just the second circuit, and Labonte followed suit. Waltrip, meanwhile led a freight train of cars as well. Behind him were Kevin Harvick and Jerry Nadeau, with Stewart on his right side door.
The side-by-side racing went on lap after lap, with Stewart and Waltrip trading the lead at different points on the race track. Finally, Stewart tucked in behind Waltrip on lap nine. They stayed single-file for another 20 laps before the caution flag waved for a multi-car accident coming out of turn two.
"It's like a Shriner's parade out here," said Stewart, still wheeling his #20 ride at 180 mph.
The caution period came and went with Stewart and the rest of the field staying out. No one headed to pit road, favoring track position over whatever could be gained from taking new tires.
When the race restarted on lap 33, the single-file racing ended. Stewart shot to the high side while Waltrip remained low. Harvick picked Stewart as his drafting partner, and more drivers committed to the outside groove as well, including Labonte. It was back to double-file racing.
Things got interesting on lap 39, when Labonte, who had passed Harvick a few laps earlier, ducked to the inside and followed Waltrip, leaving Stewart alone in the outside lane. Stewart soon went from battling for third with Nadeau to trying to find a hole in the line where he could wedge his Home Depot Pontiac. Thankfully, the end of the lined appeared, and Stewart slipped into eighth.
Despite the setback, Stewart remained cool. He drafted his way to Mayfield on lap 45, who was on the outside fighting for third. The two made good progress, with the duo earning the second and third spots, respectively, a lap later.
But Stewart was stronger than Mayfield, so it was only a matter of time before Stewart overtook him. That came on lap 47, where after a stirring pass of Mayfield, Stewart settled into familiar territory behind Waltrip.
While other drivers jockeyed behind them, Waltrip held the point and Stewart held onto second. When the checkered flag waved, that's how they finished, with Waltrip taking his first win of any kind since winning last year's Daytona 500.
"This gives us a lot of confidence," said Stewart. "I ran behind Michael yesterday at the end of practice and was able to close in a little bit on him. And we were able to close in on him a little harder today. We feel like we're going in a direction that's really going to help us in the 500."
The winner of the other Gatorade Twin 125 race was reining NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.
With today's Gatorade Twin 125s having been decided, the field for the Daytona 500 is set. On the pole is rookie Jimmie Johnson, and alongside him is last year's Rookie of Year Kevin Harvick. By sitting on the front row, both drivers were able to lock themselves into position for the Daytona 500 last Saturday. All the remaining drivers, however, had to race their way to a starting spot in today's Twin 125s.
Those who didn't make the cut and will be forced to watch the Daytona 500 from the sidelines are Hermie Sadler, Greg Biffle, Hut Stricklin, Jimmy Spencer, Buckshot Jones, Bobby Gerhart, Kirk Shelmerdine, Norm Benning, Carl Long and Rick Mast.
The green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Sun., Feb. 17 at 12:30 p.m. with live coverage provided by NBC.