Stewart displays strength at Dover. DOVER, Del., (Sept. 22, 2002) - In his seven previous starts at Dover International Speedway, Tony Stewart had wheeled his ...
Stewart displays strength at Dover.
DOVER, Del., (Sept. 22, 2002) - In his seven previous starts at Dover International Speedway, Tony Stewart had wheeled his #20 Home Depot Pontiac to two victories, five top-fives and six top-10s to give him an average finish of fourth at the one-mile oval.
Stewart added to those statistics in Sunday's MBNA All-American Heroes 400, leading twice for a total of 34 laps en route to a solid fifth-place finish. With eight career starts at Dover now under his belt, Stewart has led for a total of 668 out of a possible 3,200 laps - a little over 20 percent.
Stewart started the 400-lap affair in the 23rd position and proved his mettle early on, cracking the top-10 following a quick pit stop while under caution on lap 33. By lap 60 Stewart entered the top-five, and one by one displaced those ahead of him to take the lead on lap 104.
Pit stops jumbled the running order on lap 117, with Stewart emerging fourth behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett and Ricky Craven. But by lap 218 Stewart was back on the point, a position he held for the next 21 circuits.
The day's only session of green flag pit stops shook up the leaderboard again, as Stewart ducked on to pit road for his scheduled four-tire stop on lap 241. Rookie Jimmie Johnson had passed Stewart for the lead a few laps earlier, as Stewart's #20 machine was tight in the corner and loose upon exiting the corner. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli added a round of wedge to The Home Depot Pontiac while calling for a slight air pressure adjustment as well.
Stewart maintained his top-five standing, but received a scare shortly after lap 300 when his engine developed a miss. Stewart switched to his backup ignition box but the miss persisted. Worried crew members fretted about, as Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate - Bobby Labonte - saw his engine expire on lap 115.
But on lap 337 Stewart radioed, "Whatever our problem was there with the motor seems to have fixed itself." A sense of relief swept over The Home Depot pit, but crew members counted down the laps nonetheless.
When the checkered flag waved, fifth-place was all Stewart's, as there was quite a bit of real estate between fourth-place Matt Kenseth and sixth-place Jeff Burton.
"That's a solid top-five for us," said a weary Stewart, whose heels were blistered from the intense heat that resonated from his car's floorboards. "We ran good all day and we had a good car. I thought we were going to have the car to beat as the race went on, but in the end we just couldn't keep pace.
"I'm not sure what happened with that miss in the motor. It was an intermittent miss. It would come and go. It would do it once or twice down each straightaway and occasionally through the corners.
"It was a typical long day at Dover," continued Stewart, "but even so, this place has been good to us. We didn't get any points on Mark Martin, but we got some on the guys ahead of us. It was a real productive day."
Stewart moved from fourth to third in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings - his highest point standing this season - but actually lost points to series leader Martin, who finished second and is now 74 points ahead of Stewart.
Johnson, who won the race, moved to second in points, 30 markers arrears Martin, while garnering a little history along the way. His win in the MBNA All-America Heroes 400 was his third of the season, and as a Rookie of the Year title contender, ties him with Stewart for the most wins ever by a rookie. Stewart, of course, scored three wins during his rookie year in 1999.
Jarrett took the third spot but still remains outside of the top-10 in points, holding down the 11th position, 310 points out of the lead.
Sterling Marlin, who after leading the points for 25 straight races before being usurped by Martin last week at New Hampshire, continued his downward spiral. His 21st place finish dropped him three spots in the standings to fourth, 81 points behind Martin. Marlin has lost a total of 176 points in the last four races.
Reigning Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon held steady at fifth in the standings, but lost considerable ground in the title chase after an accident on lap 67 badly damaged his #24 Chevrolet. Gordon managed to return to the race, but his misfortune relegated him to a dismal 37th place finish.
With eight races remaining on the marathon-like Winston Cup schedule, 281 points separate the top-10 drivers in points.
The next event for the Winston Cuppers is the Sept. 29 Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway. Live coverage by NBC begins at 1 p.m. EDT.