Stewart Fifth in Fontana FONTANA, Calif., (Sept. 4, 2005) - Labor Day weekend typically signifies the end of summer, but Tony Stewart's summer hot streak rolled on in the Sony HD 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at California Speedway, as ...
Stewart Fifth in Fontana
FONTANA, Calif., (Sept. 4, 2005) - Labor Day weekend typically signifies the end of summer, but Tony Stewart's summer hot streak rolled on in the Sony HD 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at California Speedway, as the driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet finished fifth to log his 11th straight top-10 finish.
"It was such a big improvement from the way we were in the spring here," said Stewart, referring to his 17th place finish in the February race at Fontana. "I'm just so proud of Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) and the guys for the improvement we made. They did a great job. I think if we had to do it all over again we'd make a couple more changes. But it was still a good night for us."
Stewart led eight times for 56 laps before recording his series best 12th top-five finish of the season.
Despite the #20 car's handling not being exactly to his liking, Stewart motored from his 14th place starting spot to fifth in just the first 10 laps.
With constant tinkering to the chassis amidst quick pit work by his crew, Zipadelli steadily improved The Home Depot Chevrolet. It allowed Stewart to take the lead for the first time after a round of pit stops following a caution on lap 94.
Still, Stewart's car was not the best. That honor went to race winner Kyle Busch, who led five times for a race high 95 laps to become the youngest Cup winner at the age of 20 years, 4 months and 2 days.
Stewart and Busch traded the lead multiple times throughout the race, which started in the late afternoon sun and ended in the dark of night.
"The car got a little bit tighter when the sun went down, but we were still really fast," said Stewart. "Every time you come in you make your car better, and that's what we did. We kind of just got to the point to where we were pretty much as good as we were going to get and we kind of had to just live with it. I think we had the third best car really."
Stewart was third prior to the race's second to last caution on lap 242. With the team's previous stop coming on lap 200, Zipadelli called for four tires and fuel. Other teams, however, went with a two-tire strategy. That left Stewart in 11th when the race restarted on lap 243.
"The guys that took two tires - I can handle them," said a confident Stewart over the radio."
And by lap 246, Stewart proved himself correct, as he had risen to fifth when the final caution of the race came out for a three-car accident on the backstretch of the 2-mile oval.
The lengthy cleanup sent the race into overtime, as its scheduled 250-lap distance was extended by a green-white-checker finish.
On the lap 252 restart, Stewart dove to the inside of fourth-place Matt Kenseth and made the move stick at the exit of turn two. But a hard-charging Carl Edwards took the spot back from Stewart on the final lap, relegating Stewart to fifth.
"If the caution doesn't come out, we're going to run third," said Stewart, whose point lead now stands at 209 over second-place Greg Biffle. "We had a good day. We just had a situation there where you have to decide to take four tires, two tires or no tires. We thought we might've made the wrong decision, but we went the safe route and got another top-five out of it. I'm really proud of this Home Depot team."
Between race victor Busch and Stewart were Biffle, Brian Vickers and Edwards, respectively, while Kasey Kahne, Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Rudd and Joe Nemechek comprised the rest of the top-10.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Sept. 10 Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The race begins at 7:40 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by TNT.