Dover: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart rebounds at Dover leads twice for 67 Laps, Penalized a lap for pit infraction, comes back to finish fourth DOVER, Del., (June 1, 2003) - Tony Stewart was the class of the field in Sunday's MBNA Armed Forces Family 400 at Dover ...

Stewart rebounds at Dover leads twice for 67 Laps, Penalized a lap for pit infraction, comes back to finish fourth

DOVER, Del., (June 1, 2003) - Tony Stewart was the class of the field in Sunday's MBNA Armed Forces Family 400 at Dover International Speedway until a pit infraction forced Stewart a lap down. Nonetheless, Stewart and his Home Depot Racing Team persevered, battling back onto the lead lap to finish a solid fourth.

Stewart started the 400-lap race in the 11th spot, and by lap 46 was in the top-five. He passed Jimmie Johnson for fourth on lap 53, Rusty Wallace for third on lap 55, Jeff Gordon for second on lap 61, and finally Ryan Newman for the lead on lap 70. Stewart paced the next 47 circuits around the one-mile oval - where he recorded the fastest lap of the race at 153.518 mph on lap 92 - before a round of pit stops while under caution on lap 116 jumbled the running order.

Stewart dropped to second when Robby Gordon opted for two tires while everyone else took four, thereby earning the lead. It was short-lived however, for as soon as the green flag dropped on lap 119, Stewart dove to the inside in turn one to re-take the point.

Twenty laps later, the caution flag waved yet again, with Stewart leading the field to pit road.

Stewart pulled into his pit stall with the nose of his #20 Home Depot Chevrolet angled slightly outward, for he didn't want to be blocked in by Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet which occupied the pit ahead of him. Problem was, a fraction of the right front corner protruded from the pit box. Unfortunately, the NASCAR official assigned to the #20 team's pit didn't alert crew members to the infraction until service was well underway.

When the stop was over, the official held Stewart until the rest of the field passed by on the race track, dropping Stewart from first to 31st - one lap down to the leader.

Obviously frustrated, Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli did their best to refocus. With tenacious driving and savvy pit work, Stewart was in position to earn his lap back as early as lap 202. When a much needed caution came about for debris, Stewart missed passing leader Newman by inches. Newman, fully aware of Stewart's strength, raced hard to the line in an obvious attempt to keep Stewart a lap down.

But because The Home Depot Chevrolet was so strong, another opportunity would present itself. That came on lap 218, when following a restart, Stewart motored past Johnson, who held the lead. Stewart was now back on the lead lap, but he was a full straightaway behind the leaders. A caution was desperately needed to catch back up. When Johnson's Chevrolet smacked the wall on lap 277, it was the break Stewart and Company were looking for.

The race restarted on lap 281 and Stewart was 16th. He quickly passed Michael Waltrip and Mark Martin to move to 14th on lap 284 before passing Todd Bodine for 13th two laps later. Jamie McMurray was Stewart's next victim, pulling past the Dodge driver on lap 293. Another two laps, another position, with Stewart taking 11th from Jeff Burton. And on lap 310, Stewart cracked the top-10 with a pass of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

From there, Stewart put on a passing clinic - ninth from Robby Gordon on lap 312, eighth from Ricky Craven on lap 315, seventh from Terry Labonte on lap 324, sixth from Matt Kenseth on lap 327, and then fifth from Rusty Wallace on lap 360 before a round of green flag pit stops took place.

There, The Home Depot over-the-wall crew did their part, picking up two spots in the pits to send Stewart back onto the race track in third once everyone's stops cycled through.

With 10 laps to go, a spin by rookie Casey Mears brought out the final caution of the day. This time, the caution flag was not welcomed by the #20 team. They were best on long runs, and now it would be a sprint to the finish.

At the point was Newman, with Jeff Gordon in between him and Stewart. While coming off turn four for the restart on lap 395, Newman brake-checked the field. The tactic forced Stewart to hit the brakes while Newman pounced on the throttle. Fourth-place Bobby Labonte - Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate - swept to the inside of Stewart and grabbed third down the back straightaway. Newman, meanwhile, checked out, with Jeff Gordon comfortably in second as Bobby Labonte was too far back to make much of a run. Stewart watched from fourth, more disgusted over what could've been than impressed with his remarkable drive from being one lap down.

When the checkered flag waved, Newman had scored his second victory of the season and the third of his career. Those trailing Newman stayed in line, with Johnny Benson enjoying a strong run in fifth. The fourth-place finish brought Stewart up four spots in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings to 16th, 550 points arrears series leader Kenseth.

The bump in points was of little consolation to Stewart, who quickly departed the track, or Zipadelli, who still seethed over the pit road infraction imposed by NASCAR.

"It was a tough call," said Zipadelli. "It would've been one thing if the official was out there to tell us to get back (over the line), but he wasn't. That's what I was upset about. It wasn't a matter of whether we were (outside the pit box) or we weren't. They held us for a lap. It's kind of the official's job to tell us if we're over or not. Make the call that we're over the line. Don't just close your eyes. We were wrong, but at the same time, it was still a tough deal. We weren't over the line, we were on the line by an inch. What are you going to do? A rule's a rule.

"We didn't need that last caution," added Zipadelli when asked about the culmination of the team's charge back from their pit road penalty. "We had made up 10 second on the leaders. We had a better shot at finishing second under green than we did having that last restart."

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the June 8 Pocono 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Live coverage by FOX begins at 1 p.m. EDT.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Todd Bodine , Robby Gordon , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Johnny Benson , Jimmie Johnson , Ricky Craven , Jamie McMurray , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing