Monster Mile Swipes Stewart's Streak of Top-10s Home Depot Driver Finishes 18th at Dover DOVER, Del., (Sept. 25, 2005) - Sunday's MBNA RacePoints 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway proved uncharacteristic for...
Monster Mile Swipes Stewart's Streak of Top-10s
Home Depot Driver Finishes 18th at Dover
DOVER, Del., (Sept. 25, 2005) - Sunday's MBNA RacePoints 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway proved uncharacteristic for Tony Stewart and the #20 Home Depot Racing Team. They finished 18th at the 1-mile oval - only the third time in 14 career Dover starts where they've placed outside the top-10.
"Nobody saw this coming, for sure," said Stewart, whose string of top-10 Nextel Cup race finishes ended at 13. "This thing drove a lot better yesterday, and I don't know why it was so bad today.
"But I've got to thank all of the guys on this Home Depot team. None of us gave up all day. We got a lap down twice and got back on the lead lap twice. But we tried short-pitting there at the end - which has never seemed to pay off for us - and it got us two laps down to where we couldn't get into the top-10. But I'm proud of my team. The car was a lot better at the end of the race from where it started."
Stewart started 31st in the 402-lap race, which went two laps beyond its scheduled distance when Joe Nemechek crashed with one lap to go. The resulting green-white-checker format only extended the #20 team's angst, because as the first car two laps down, 18th was as high as Stewart could climb.
"It wasn't the day we were looking for, by any means," said Stewart. "It was obvious that we didn't have a good car today, but we don't know why. This wasn't the way our car drove yesterday. There's something wrong there, but we'll be fine. We'll wait until we get to the shop to find out."
Even with an ill-handling race car, crew chief Greg Zipadelli and Stewart were rallying their way to the front.
After spending the first 150 laps mired in the 30s, Stewart cracked the top-25 following a restart on lap 180.
Wholesale changes were being made on each and every pit stop. From wedge and track bar adjustments to air pressure and spring rubber placements, Zipadelli had his tool box wide open in an effort to cure his car's handling woes.
As the race wore on, The Home Depot Chevy improved, with Stewart breaking into the top-15 after a lap 296 restart.
In addition to his car's betterment, those ahead of Stewart - which included some of Stewart's championship rivals - succumbed to Dover's treacherous layout.
Greg Biffle, who had shown strength earlier in the race by leading twice for 14 laps, was forced to pit road for an unscheduled stop on lap 301 to replace a flat tire. That handed Stewart the 13th position, with the two-time Dover winner within shouting distance of the top-10.
Still, Stewart's car was far from perfect. He was 15th when a round of green flag pit stops began on lap 365.
Championship contender Kurt Busch was the first to pit road, and Stewart followed.
Motoring away with four fresh Goodyears with air pressures adjusted to better handle Dover's concrete layout, Stewart was good to the finish, as his full fuel tank was more than enough to carry him the distance.
But as Stewart pulled off pit road, Matt Kenseth's Ford - another championship challenger - was impacting the turn two wall.
Out came the caution and out went Stewart's chances of logging a 14th straight top-10 finish.
Since Stewart pitted under green, he was a full two laps down when the yellow caution flag waved. There would be no more chances to get back on the lead lap with less than 30 laps remaining.
Mired in 18th, Stewart was racing Kevin Harvick, Dave Blaney, Mike Wallace and Travis Kvapil - the only drivers who were two laps off the pace. Stewart held his ground through two restarts, finally taking the checkered flag to end the long day.
With two races down in the 10-race Chase for the Championship, Stewart dropped to fifth in the standings, 23 points arrears new series leader Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson won the MBNA RacePoints 400 to score his third victory of the season and the 17th of his Nextel Cup career. Kyle Busch finished second, while Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman rounded-out the rest of the top-five. Comprising the remainder of the top-10 were Elliott Sadler, Jeremy Mayfield, Kyle Petty, Carl Edwards and Casey Mears.
Live coverage of next week's UAW-Ford 500 begins at 2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC.