Stewart thankful Dover is over. DOVER, Del., (June 2, 2002) - In his six previous NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts at Dover International Speedway, Tony Stewart had finished no worse than seventh. Of those fine finishes, two were for wins. And...
Stewart thankful Dover is over.
DOVER, Del., (June 2, 2002) - In his six previous NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts at Dover International Speedway, Tony Stewart had finished no worse than seventh. Of those fine finishes, two were for wins. And with career start number seven looming, it seemed only natural to pick Stewart as a favorite to win Sunday's MBNA Platinum 400 at the concrete-clad one-mile oval.
But when Stewart's #20 Home Depot Pontiac finished 11th in the 400-lap event, the only thing natural was his frustration.
>From the time the team unloaded on Friday for the weekend's first practice session to the waving of the checkered flag on Sunday, the handling on the #20 machine never quite suited Stewart's driving style.
"Loose" was the word most often heard over the radio, as Stewart described The Home Depot Pontiac's handling characteristics to crew chief Greg Zipadelli throughout the three-day weekend.
As a result, Stewart qualified 25th on Friday, slapped the turn two wall with the right rear corner of his Pontiac in Saturday morning's practice session, and concluded his weekend with what he described as "the most frustrating race of his career."
Just five laps after the green flag fell at 1 p.m. EDT, Stewart radioed that he was "awfully loose." He put things in better perspective when the caution came out on lap 18 and Zipadelli asked him how drastic a change should be made to the #20 car's chassis. "On a scale of one to five," said Stewart, "this thing's a five."
With that information, Zipadelli removed two rounds of wedge and lowered the track bar one round when Stewart came to pit road the following lap. But it seemed of little help, as the car was still too loose for Stewart's liking.
Despite having an imperfect race car, Stewart moved toward the front. When the second caution of the day came out on lap 41, Stewart was 12th. And when his pit crew finished putting on four fresh tires and making another chassis adjustment, Stewart emerged four spots better in eighth.
Stewart ran solidly in the top-10 until another caution on lap 125 sent the field to pit road for service. More drastic adjustments were planned, including the removal of a spring rubber from both the left rear and the right rear springs of The Home Depot Pontiac. Work on the right rear went smoothly, but pulling the left rear spring rubber out proved troublesome. It happened, but only after precious seconds had clicked of the clock. Adding insult to injury was a pair of lugnuts that came unglued when the left rear tire was placed on the hub. Again, more seconds were lost.
When the stop was over, Stewart emerged in 24th position.
The race restarted on lap 132, and for the first time all weekend, the #20 machine wasn't loose. It was, however, tight. Nonetheless, Stewart resumed his charge toward the front, holding the 16th spot when the race hit the halfway mark.
More stellar pit work enabled Stewart to climb to 11th following another pit stop under caution on lap 216, and even with an ill-handling car, Stewart remained within striking distance of the top-10.
During the team's final stop of the race on lap 375 - again under caution - The Home Depot team opted for four tires while other teams with better handling race cars took two tires. Those taking two tires came out ahead of Stewart, dropping The Home Depot pilot to 15th.
The race restarted on lap 378, and Stewart used the remaining 22 laps to gain as much ground as he could. When the checkered flag waved, 11th spot was his.
The hard-fought effort maintained Stewart's seventh-place standing in the points, as he now sits 225 points behind series leader Sterling Marlin.
Winning the MBNA Platinum 400 was rookie driver Jimmie Johnson. It was his second career victory in 16 races, moving him from fifth to second in the championship point standings. Following Johnson to the line was Bill Elliott, Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman and Dale Jarrett.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the June 9 Pocono 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Live coverage by FX begins at 1 p.m. EDT.