Tony Stewart earned his first Winston Cup road course victory Sunday at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma,California, leading Robby Gordon and Jeff Gordon across the finish line. Stewart took the lead for the first time with 11 laps to go, passing...
Tony Stewart earned his first Winston Cup road course victory Sunday at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma,California, leading Robby Gordon and Jeff Gordon across the finish line. Stewart took the lead for the first time with 11 laps to go, passing Robby Gordon as the final yellow flag of the day fell on lap 102. Behind them, cars were careening everywhere in the final laps, looking more like a Keystone Kops episode than a NASCAR race. The variety of spins and crashes in the final laps allowed Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team to gain 12 positions in the final seven laps to finish 19th. It is the best road course finish ever for the sophomore Winston Cup Bud team.
The Key Moment: Though it was hard to pinpoint a single moment, perhaps a yellow flag on lap 33 proved to be the difference. Starting 37th, the red Bud car was a handful in the early laps, sliding sideways and dropping back as far as 41st position, and in serious danger of being lapped by the leaders. The yellow flag allowed them to stay on the lead lap and make a pit stop to make some major adjustments to the chassis.Following the stop, Dale Jr. was able to run lap times equal to the race leaders. The team also managed to stay on the lead lap despite two off-track 'excursions' late in the race.
Dale Jr's Quotes: "God a'mighty! Those last couple o' laps were crazier than hell! I came into the hairpin (turn 11) coming to the white flag and it was just a wall of dirt and smoke and s&*% all over the place. We just tried to get through it and somehow we made it through."
"We must have set a record! No, really. I think I'm the first guy to spin out twice at Sears Point and stay on the lead lap. That's GOTTA be a record!"
Best Team Radio Chatter of the Day
Just as the first yellow flag of the day fell on lap 33, Dale Jr. described the handling of the car while at the same time trying to stay ahead of leader Jeff Gordon and not lose a lap: Dale Jr: "It's big time loose. No bite off the corners; it's loose off the first couple of turns, then in the "esses" it's kinda loose, and coming off of the last turn I'm really loose. I'm loose, OK?!" Tony Eury Jr (car chief): "10-4. Loose." Joey Meier(Bud team spotter / DEI pilot): "Stay ahead of that 24 (J. Gordon) car!" Dale Jr: "I'm just tryin' not to hit anything!"
The final corner of the road course is a tight hairpin, which spreads much of the field on re-starts. As the leaders would take the green flag, Dale Jr. and the rest of the cars near the back of the pack were still entering the sharp corner. Tony Jr: "Green flag! Green flag! Pass only on the right or left or wherever you can pass." Dale Jr: "Can I pass on the inside or not?!" Tony Jr: "To be honest, I don't know, that's why I said pass 'em. wherever." Dale Jr: "So now I'm really confused." Tony Eury Sr (crew chief): "It's always to the right. Even though it's a road course, it's still on the right. They don't change it. They try not to confuse you guys."
After Dale Jr. spun off the track on lap 73, his spotter tried to guide him back on the course behind the No. 10 car of Johnny Benson. Joey Meier: "OK Junior, you're clear behind the 10 car." Dale Jr. (who pulled out in front of the 10 instead, narrowly avoiding a collision): "WHOA!Clear my a%&!"
After spinning off course twice: Dale Jr.: "I wasn't thinking -- spinning out like that. I guess I just turned into an idiot for a few laps. But, now I've changed back into my real self." Tony Jr: "Yeah, well. way to go. Nice job." Dale Jr: "Damn, the fan and these air vents inside this car are nice! I've got air coming in the right side, I got a tube in my suit and fresh air down the back of the seat. This is crazy, but it's the best ever! It might even be too cold out here to have it on!"
The team's poor qualifying effort relegated them to what is known as "Gilligan's Island," a separate pit area for the last nine qualified teams. The island creates a unique situation where NASCAR must hold each car for 18 seconds after their pit stop to counteract a shorter distance into the island versus the regular pit lane. To mark their spot on the island, several team members ran to the Budweiser souvenir trailer and purchased Gilligan-style "bucket" hats for the entire crew. Tony Eury Sr, usually the crew chief, w appointed as "the Skipper," while Dale Jr. was as selected as "Little Buddy." No one volunteered for the roles of Ginger and Mary Anne. Tony Jr: "They need to work on that timing thing! Look at the 26 car! We were done before they were but they are halfway down the straightaway already while we were still being held by NASCAR!" Dale Jr: "Don't worry about it. We'll make it up." Joey Meier: "Hey guys, Gilligan's getting rescued. They're supposed to build a new pit lane for next year." Dale Jr: "Well, we won't qualify this bad next year anyway, so forget about it."
After Dale Jr. crossed the finish line in 19th place: Jeff Clark (jackman / engine tuner): "Good job today Dale Jr. A mere mortal would have given up."