Frustration in Fontana Stewart and Co. Finish 18th in Pop Secret 500 FONTANA, Calif., (Sept. 5, 2004) - Tony Stewart coaxed an ill-handling Home Depot Chevrolet to an 18th place finish in Sunday's Pop Secret 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at...
Frustration in Fontana
Stewart and Co. Finish 18th in Pop Secret 500
FONTANA, Calif., (Sept. 5, 2004) - Tony Stewart coaxed an ill-handling Home Depot Chevrolet to an 18th place finish in Sunday's Pop Secret 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at California Speedway, bringing a disappointing conclusion to a disappointing weekend.
It all began Friday when Stewart qualified an uncharacteristic 33rd. Saturday proved equally frustrating when his #20 machine continued to display its unwanted handling traits during the day's first practice session. Wholesale changes were made in the hour-long break before final practice began, and the team's chassis adjustments seemed to pay off with Stewart sensing the car's betterment.
But it simply wasn't enough come race day. Stewart spent all 250 laps struggling behind the wheel while crew chief Greg Zipadelli struggled to find a solution to the car's handling woes.
"This thing just feels like it's up on top of the race track," said Stewart with just 22 laps in the books. "I move high and I get loose. I move low and I get tight. There's no in between."
Anxious to find a fix, Stewart followed Greg Biffle to pit road after the race's first caution on lap 27. Problem was, pit road wasn't yet open. While major chassis adjustments were indeed made, Stewart had to join Biffle at the tail end of the longest line when the race restarted on lap 30.
"I just followed him (Biffle) down in there," said Stewart as he apologized to his crew over the radio. "I didn't even think."
The race was still young, so the penalty was far from harsh. And despite driving a race car that wasn't to his liking, Stewart rallied his way to respectability.
Thanks to quick pit stops and constant tinkering via air pressure and wedge adjustments, Stewart rose to 15th by lap 180. He hung onto the cusp of the top-15 until the caution flag waved for a Dale Earnhardt Jr. spin on lap 220. There, Stewart and Zipadelli opted to pit, taking four fresh tires over track position.
Stewart restarted in 19th on lap 223 and rose only slightly before another caution came out on lap 235 for a three-car accident in turn four. Again Stewart and Zipadelli opted to pit for another set of Goodyears, and again track position was lost. But with those running behind Stewart also pitting for four tires, not having fresh rubber would've proved detrimental. Stewart restarted in 22nd, and with just 10 laps remaining, climbed to 18th.
The finish maintained Stewart's fourth-place point standing, with solid cushions between third-place Earnhardt and fifth-place Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt is 62 points up on Stewart while Kenseth is 51 points arrears. New point leader Jimmie Johnson is 178 points ahead of Stewart and second-place Jeff Gordon 128 points ahead.
Notching his second win of 2004 and the third of his career was Elliott Sadler, who took the Pop Secret 500 .263 seconds ahead of second-place Kasey Kahne. Following Kahne - a rookie who is now a five-time runner-up and still seeking his first win - was Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman. Carl Edwards, Scott Riggs, Dale Jarrett, Robby Gordon and Rusty Wallace comprised the rest of the top-10.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Sept. 11 Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Live coverage by TNT begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT.