by David Reininger - motorsport.com Dover, Del. (June 4, 2000) - Tony Stewart won his fourth career victory in NASCAR Winston Cup competition in the MBNA Platinum 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway this afternoon. It was the 1999 Rookie...
by David Reininger - motorsport.com
Dover, Del. (June 4, 2000) - Tony Stewart won his fourth career victory in NASCAR Winston Cup competition in the MBNA Platinum 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway this afternoon. It was the 1999 Rookie of the Year's first win of the season, and his first win at the high banked concrete super-speedway.
Only five cars finished on the lead lap after late race pit strategy came into play, with Matt Kenseth finishing second followed by Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd.
Stewart dominated the race in his Home Depot Pontiac, leading 242 of the 400 laps. After taking the lead on lap 107, Stewart relinquished the lead only twice during a series of pit stops. Stewart, who finished second in his last appearance at Dover last September, led four times, taking the lead for good with 64 laps remaining in the race.
"I think we knew in the morning session yesterday that we had a pretty good race car," said Stewart after becoming the 12th different driver to win a race this season.
"At the start of the race the track was really dirty. At about 20 laps into it, it really started to come back in. Once the track cleaned back off we pretty much had the same car we had in the morning session yesterday. With the clouds coming in and the car getting a little tight, the guys made adjustments and got it freed back up. We had a great car all day long, just like we had at Richmond last year."
Although Stewart had the dominant car all day, pit strategy came became a key when Rusty Wallace tagged the Turn three wall bringing out a yellow flag on lap 284. Although the leaders had made full service pit stops as soon as the pits opened, both Joe Gibbs Racing cars, driven by Stewart and Bobby Labonte, along with the Robert Yates Racing entries of Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd and Matt Kenseth stopped to top off their fuel tanks just before the track returned to green.
With an extra five lap cushion, the Gibbs and Yates cars, along with Matt Kenseth, had an outside chance of finishing the race without making another pit stop.
With 14 laps to go, Dale Earnhardt, who led 49 laps late in the race, was running behind Stewart in second position when he was forced to pit for fuel and right side tires under green flag conditions. Joe Nemechek and Ron Hornaday also gave up top-ten positions pitting under the green late in the race.
With 17 laps to go, Jeff Gordon, who went a lap down at the midpoint of the race, blew a tire, sending his Dupont Chevrolet into the Turn four wall. The ensuing caution period allowed Stewart, Labonte, Rudd, Jarrett and Kenseth to pit under caution, taking four tires and enough fuel to ensure a run to the finish. It also put everyone else one lap down.
When the field assembled to take the green, Stewart lined up at the point followed by Kenseth, Labonte, Jarrett and Rudd. With 14 laps of racing remaining, Stewart's challengers knew they'd have to drive hard to take the checkered first.
Kenseth, who made a good restart, got a run on Stewart down the backstretch, challenging for the lead with an outside move in Turn three. Stewart managed to hold off the Kenseth's advance, pulling away as his tires started to come in.
When asked about the timing on his bid for the lead, Kenseth replied, "The sooner the better, especially on new tires. The tires have the best stick the first corner. I just tried as hard as I could right away. I wasn't sure how the car was going to act, but unfortunately it was too tight. It started skating the right-front (tire) right away."
"I knew he had a good run," said Stewart. "Our car was best after probably 20 or 25 laps. The guys made an adjustment to try and make it better since we had such a short run left to try and make it come in a little quicker. I think Matt's car was a little better right off the get-go. But once we got about three or four laps on those tires it evened out and we started pulling away again."
Kenseth's second place finish moves the Rookie of the Year contender from 21st to 12th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. "We're still kind of looking at the big picture, not so much Rookie of the Year, but really trying to turn this team into a contending team in the future. There are still places where we're going to struggle at, but my main goal is to get this team so next year, or the year after, we can be a championship contender and run like guys like Mark Martin and Jeff Burton."
This was Kenseth's fifth top-ten finish this season in the Dewalt Tools Ford.
Bobby Labonte, driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac, continues to lead the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings after his third place finish today. He currently leads over Ward Burton, who finished eighth, by 82 points.
"We had a good run," Labonte said. "We started ninth and we just kind of held our own in the top five or seven most of the day. It was just one of those deals where we didn't have the fastest car at times. We had a good car all day long, but we just didn't have the fastest car like the '12' or the '20'. We were just always back there in probably third or fourth all day."