Dover Yields 15th for Stewart, but Not Without Controversy DOVER, Del., (June 5, 2005) - Tony Stewart was poised for yet another top-10 finish at Dover International Speedway, but a pit road speeding penalty late in Sunday's MBNA RacePoints 400...
Dover Yields 15th for Stewart, but Not Without Controversy
DOVER, Del., (June 5, 2005) - Tony Stewart was poised for yet another top-10 finish at Dover International Speedway, but a pit road speeding penalty late in Sunday's MBNA RacePoints 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race dropped the driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet off the lead lap and into a 15th place finish. It was Stewart's worst finish in 13 career Nextel Cup starts at the Dover mile, and only his second finish outside of the top-10.
But the penalty and disappointing result were overshadowed by an incident Stewart had with Jeff Gordon on lap 41 of the 400-lap race.
Running seventh and trailing Gordon, Stewart bumped the back of Gordon's car coming off turn two. Gordon spun hard into the outside retaining wall, crumpling the rear of his #24 Chevrolet. The damage was too severe to fix, relegating him to a 39th place finish and his fifth DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season.
"Tony was a little bit better than me and there was no doubt I was holding him up," said Gordon. "I wanted to see if my car would come to me, but he just ran out of patience. All I can say is that next time Tony's holding me up, it won't be very long for him to be out of my way."
After the race, Stewart was asked what happened, as well as what his reaction was to Gordon's criticism.
"I got into the back of him. It doesn't take much of a rocket scientist to figure that out," said Stewart.
"Everybody else was doing a pretty good job of give-and-take. It's just when you get around Jeff I guess the rules are different with him. He does more taking than he does giving. But the intention wasn't to knock him up out of the way. I just wanted to get behind him close enough that he knew I was there to say, 'Hey, you know, let us go and if you're faster we'll let you go.' And we've always done that with him. But if somebody does something to Jeff it's always their fault."
The on- and off-track sparring just a week after the Nextel Cup race at Charlotte (N.C.) that featured a record-breaking 22 caution periods led some to speculate that it's the series' competitive nature that is leading to so many incidents.
"It's happening week to week because people are forgetting how to be respectful," said Stewart. "I remember when I started and it didn't used to be like this. You've got to race guys to the death just to get by them, and if you have to do that then that's what you're going to have to do. You're going to have to get behind guys like that and then when Jeff checks up like that and I run into him, then it's his fault and not ours. All he had to do was move up and let us go and 20 laps later if he was faster we would've let him go right back by.
"He expects more patience on everybody else, not himself. Instead of him doing it he expects us just to let him go and wait until his car gets better.
"I didn't have any problems with Mark Martin. I didn't have any problems with Jeff Burton. The only guys I had problems with were Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. It's the same guys every week. It's a group of them that think the roads are named after them - one way.
"Eventually," Stewart concluded, "you finally have to stand up for yourself. You give so much that they expect you to just give it to them all the time. Well, by gosh, if I have a fast race car, they're going to have to start giving me some now."
The haranguing between Stewart and Gordon overshadowed Stewart's run toward what could've been his 12th top-10 finish in 13 career starts at Dover.
Battling an ill-handling race car for much of the race, Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli finally struck on a setup that was good at the beginning of a run and at the end of a run. In 15th after a restart on lap 289, Stewart slowly began reeling in the top-10. With 35 laps to go, he was 13th, with the 10th, 11th and 12th place cars of Kurt Busch, Scott Riggs and Jeff Burton, respectively, coming into view.
On lap 369 Stewart passed Burton for 12th, and on lap 370 he got by Riggs for 11th. Setting his sights on Busch, Stewart moved ever closer to cracking the top-10.
But when race leader Greg Biffle hit pit road for a scheduled green flag pit stop, Stewart followed. The strategy was sound and the stop was quick. But NASCAR's timing and scoring monitors determined that Stewart was too fast exiting pit road, despite him being in the third pit stall from the end of pit road.
Nonetheless, the penalty stood, with Stewart forced to make a pass down pit road at the mandated 35 mph speed limit while his counterparts lapped the concrete oval at speed. That dropped Stewart off the lead lap, leading to the 15th place finish.
Even with the sub-par result, Stewart moved up one spot in the championship point standings to fifth, 306 points arrears series leader Johnson.
Winning the MBNA RacePoints 400 was Biffle, who scored his seventh career Nextel Cup victory and his fourth this season. Following him to the line in second was rookie Kyle Busch, while Martin, Johnson and Rusty Wallace rounded-out the rest of the top-five. Comprising the remainder of the top-10 were Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Newman, Kurt Busch and Elliott Sadler.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the June 12 Pocono 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The race begins at 1:40 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX.