Fontana II: Tony Stewart race report

PERSEVERANCE NETS 13TH-PLACE FINISH AT CALIFORNIA Stewart, Home Depot Team Can't Completely Overcome Handling Woes Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), battled subtle but significant handling ...

PERSEVERANCE NETS 13TH-PLACE FINISH AT CALIFORNIA
Stewart, Home Depot Team Can't Completely Overcome Handling Woes

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), battled subtle but significant handling difficulties through the first three-quarters of Sunday night's Cal 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at California Speedway in Fontana, but still went on to lead a dozen laps during a late-race gamble for the victory and wound up with a 13th place finish.

Stewart started 22nd and found his Home Depot Chevrolet slightly loose on corner entry and exit and tight in the center of the corners on the 2-mile oval, much like he did throughout practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday. Despite the handling difficulties, which the No. 20 crew remedied with tire pressure and incremental wedge adjustments during the first six pit stops of the night over the opening 155 laps, Stewart routinely found himself moving toward the top-10 after each restart. He ran as high as seventh on separate occasions on Laps 60 and 78.

Finally, after removing a right-rear spring rubber on a Lap-165 stop under caution, which turned out to not be enough of a fix, the Home Depot crew took a chance by making an extended stop under caution on Lap 183, during which major adjustments were made on three of the four shock absorbers. After returning to the pits to top off on fuel one lap later, Stewart mounted yet another charge to the front, his best of the night. He restarted in 22nd and found himself back in the top-10 when the lead pack, which last stopped for tires and fuel on Lap 166, began making green-flag stops on Lap 210. Stewart was in fifth by Lap 211, and the team debated then whether to stop with the leaders or, with some 18 more laps worth of fuel in the tank, gamble on a chance to pit much later under caution and maintain track position at the front.

They decided to take the chance. Stewart moved into the lead on Lap 216 and stayed there for the next 12 laps. The caution he and the team were hoping for never came, however. Stewart relinquished the lead on Lap 228 when he pitted a final time for tires and fuel, just 22 laps from the finish. He resumed in 17th place and picked off four cars before the checkered flag flew.

"It was just one of those nights when, from the beginning this weekend, we just never really got it right in race practice," Stewart said. "The more the race went on, the more I could pick apart where were at and what we needed to do. Listening to Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) after we got back after the race, I think we know where we missed it. It was one of those deals where it was in the front end and not something we could change on a caution. It was something we needed to change on the scales and not on a pit stop. It required a precise change. So it turned to be something we could only work around all night.

"If we would have pitted toward the end when everybody else did instead of taking the chance and staying out, we probably would've finished in the top-10. But even taking the gamble and getting ourselves behind there, we still ended up with a 13th-place finish. So, all in all, I can say as hard as everybody worked today it was a good day, considering what we had. Having the luxury of being locked into the Chase, we could take the extra time on a caution, make a big shock adjustment, and help ourselves a bunch. We really had nothing to lose. I think it was all worth the gamble."

Stewart held steady in the championship point standings with tonight's 13th-place finish. The two-time Nextel Cup champion is still second in points, 317 behind series leader Jeff Gordon.

Stewart's JGR teammates -- Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley -- finished 19th and 29th, respectively, in the Cal 500. Hamlin remained third in points, where he's 344 markers behind Gordon. Yeley, meanwhile, also held steady at 20th in points.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Sept. 8 Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by ABC beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , J.J. Yeley , Denny Hamlin