Fontana: Tony Stewart race remarks

California dream turns nightmare for Stewart. FONTANA, Calif., (April 28, 2002) - It's a simple, rudimentary part known as a Heim joint, essentially a bolt with a thick metal eye at the top of it used to thread metal wire through a desired ...

California dream turns nightmare for Stewart.

FONTANA, Calif., (April 28, 2002) - It's a simple, rudimentary part known as a Heim joint, essentially a bolt with a thick metal eye at the top of it used to thread metal wire through a desired location.

The throttle linkage on Tony Stewart's #20 Home Depot Pontiac uses such a device to link the gas pedal to the carburetor, just as many other teams in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series do.

But it was on lap 126 of the 250-lap NAPA Auto Parts 500 at California Speedway that, unlike those other Winston Cup teams, the Heim joint on The Home Depot Pontiac broke.

Running solidly in fifth at the time, Stewart was forced to pit road, as his throttle was inoperable. Stewart could step on the accelerator, but there was no response. He coasted to pit road, stopped in his stall, and his team went to work. They managed to reattach the linkage, enough so that Stewart could once again control the throttle.

As Stewart headed out of the pits, the team received word from NASCAR that they would be assessed a drive-thru penalty on the next lap. Stewart had exceeded the pit road speed limit when he came to pit road - an understandable infraction considering that when the throttle isn't working, neither is the tachometer, which drivers use to judge their pit road speed. The whole ordeal dropped Stewart to 39th, three laps down to the leader.

"The Heim joint broke on the throttle linkage," explained crew chief Greg Zipadelli following the pit stop. "I don't know why. This car has only been run three times. It's not like this is something that's been abused. This car has never been wrecked. I don't really know. All I know is that it's pretty frustrating, because this team has been doing a hell of a job on The Home Depot Pontiac."

Once Stewart returned to the race track, both he and Zipadelli questioned whether the throttle could still be cracked wide open. When a caution on lap 142 came out for a single car incident in turn two, Stewart returned to pit road to have the throttle readjusted. It took two pit stops to repair the linkage correctly, as Zipadelli didn't want Stewart to lose any more laps by hanging in the pits too long.

Stewart returned to competition when the race restarted on lap 146, hoping that attrition on the part of other race teams would help him move up a few positions in the final rundown.

Paint dried, grass grew and Stewart made laps around the two-mile oval right to the very end. While certainly not exciting, it was worthwhile. Attrition did indeed help Stewart's cause, as The Home Depot pilot crossed the finish line in 29th place.

The disappointing result dropped Stewart from eighth to 10th in the championship point standings, 301 points behind series leader Sterling Marlin.

On the other end of the racing spectrum was rookie Jimmie Johnson, who scored his maiden Winston Cup victory in the NAPA Auto Parts 500, becoming the eighth different winner in the 10 races run thus far in 2002. Kurt Busch finished second, with Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott and Mark Martin finishing third through fifth, respectively.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the May 4 Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Live coverage by FX begins at 7 p.m. EDT.

-jgt/hd-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Tony Stewart , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin