Dover: Tony Stewart race report

Wild day at Dover Stewart leads most laps but finishes second, rises to fourth in points DOVER, Del., (June 6, 2004) - Eleven caution periods. Two red flags. A 19-car accident. Two hundred and thirty-four laps led. One missed trip to pit...

Wild day at Dover
Stewart leads most laps but finishes second, rises to fourth in points

DOVER, Del., (June 6, 2004) - Eleven caution periods. Two red flags. A 19-car accident. Two hundred and thirty-four laps led. One missed trip to pit road. And a second-place finish. That was Tony Stewart's day in the MBNA America 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway - one of the more bizarre races in recent NASCAR memory, with the subplots overshadowing a Mark Martin victory that ended his 72-race winless streak.

Stewart was front and center in the race, leading three times for 234 laps - the most of any driver - before missing the entrance to pit road as he attempted to make his first green flag pit stop on lap 318. After sliding past the commitment line to pit road, Stewart had to make another full lap around the 1-mile oval. He finally pitted one lap later and was set to go a lap down when he was saved by a caution.

"I just missed pit road," said Stewart. "I locked up the front wheels and followed the path of where I locked it up. We've got the commitment line with those cones and I couldn't go around those cones and come on in. I just missed it getting in and that was it. It was just a mistake on my part trying not to give anything up getting into pit lane."

Ryan Newman, who was racing Stewart for the lead, also missed the entrance to pit road when he pitted on the following lap. His Dodge slid backward into the tire barrier that separated the pits from the race track, which prompted NASCAR to throw the caution flag on lap 321.

This set off a huge debate as to who was in what position when the yellow was displayed. Further complicating the matter were cars such as Stewart's #20 Home Depot Chevrolet making green flag pit stops, as NASCAR needed 25 caution laps to sort out the issues surrounding where cars were on the race track the moment the caution lights came on.

It was decided that with the field frozen Stewart had maintained his lead lap status. But since he had just completed his green flag pit stop he had to go to the tail end of the lead lap despite his fifth-place standing in the running order. Being on the tail end of the lead lap meant that the leaders - Jeremy Mayfield, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Martin - were right behind Stewart when the race restarted on lap 345.

In order to get another shot at racing for the win, Stewart needed a caution, as it would allow him to circle around the race track and bridge the gap between him and the leaders.

He got that caution in a big way on lap 347 when contact between Dave Blaney and Michael Waltrip at the end of the backstretch triggered a massive, 19-car pileup that led to the race's first red flag stoppage. Also aiding Stewart's cause was the accident taking out two of the prime contenders - Mayfield and Johnson.

When the red flag was lifted and the race restarted, Stewart was third behind Kahne and Martin. The trio stayed that way through another caution period beginning on lap 375, where Stewart made his last pit stop for four tires and fuel. He maintained his third-place status and set off after Kahne and Martin when the race restarted on lap 380.

As Stewart doggedly pursued Martin for second, Casey Mears slapped the wall coming off turn four and ruptured an oil line. Mears made a full lap around the track before hitting pit road, laying a streak of oil around the Dover oval. The caution never waved until race leader Kahne drove into turn one, slid in the oil, and pounded the wall. Martin and Stewart stayed a groove lower than Kahne and avoided the oil, while Robby Gordon, rookie Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth weren't as lucky. All three spun, suffering varying amounts of damage.

This brought out the second red flag for cleanup crews to attend to the mess and assure the 140,000 fans in attendance a green flag finish. A 10-lap shootout followed, with a determined Martin able to drive away from Stewart. As the race came to a close, Stewart fought off a hard-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. to hold onto second. Earnhardt settled for third while Jeff Burton and rookie Scott Riggs rounded out the top-five. Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Mayfield, rookie Scott Wimmer and Kevin Harvick completed the top-10, all a lap or more down.

"I feel pretty lucky to get out of here with second," said Stewart, who notched his seventh top-10 finish of the season. "Our car really liked to be up front in clean air. But Mark's (Martin) a hungry guy. He wants to get that first championship under his belt. He wasn't going to let this one get away from him today."

While Martin made his desire for a championship known, Stewart made a case for himself as well. His runner-up finish bumped him up one spot to fourth in the championship point standings, 196 points arrears series leader Earnhardt. Stewart is now only 17 points behind third-place Kenseth while holding a 58-point advantage over fifth-place Jeff Gordon.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the June 13 Pocono 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Live coverage begins at 1 p.m. EDT on FOX.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Terry Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Scott Riggs , Kasey Kahne , Scott Wimmer , Brian Vickers , Mark Martin