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Stewart Rides Razor's Edge in California Home Depot Driver Finishes 17th in Auto Club 500 FONTANA, Calif., (Feb. 27, 2005) - "It was like driving a razor blade." Those were Tony Stewart's words following his 17th place finish in Sunday's Auto...

Stewart Rides Razor's Edge in California
Home Depot Driver Finishes 17th in Auto Club 500

FONTANA, Calif., (Feb. 27, 2005) - "It was like driving a razor blade." Those were Tony Stewart's words following his 17th place finish in Sunday's Auto Club 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at California Speedway.

Stewart's #20 Home Depot Chevrolet proved a handful throughout the 250 circuits around California's 2-mile oval, as the car's handling teetered between being too tight and too loose.

How bad was it? Fellow competitor Ryan Newman, who followed Stewart during the last 50 laps, poked his head inside Stewart's car after the race and said, "Man, you've got to be tired after driving that thing today."

Stewart started from the back of the 43-car field after a transmission change late Friday made his 29th place qualifying effort moot. It seemed to be a precursor of things to come.

During the first 90 laps the #20 machine was too tight in the center and exit of the corners, before turning decidedly evil by being tight in the center of the corner and then loose on exit. No matter what changes crew chief Greg Zipadelli made to the Home Depot Chevrolet, its ill-handling ways continued.

An oasis of reprieve greeted the team on lap 182 when the #20's lap times showed to be the best they'd been all day. Even Stewart felt that perhaps they'd at least turned a figurative corner even as his race car struggled to turn corners on its own. Upon cracking the top-15 for the first time on lap 198, Stewart keyed his mic and said, "I don't know what's gotten into us but we just passed two cars."

But the oasis of reprieve proved to be a mirage. In an attempt to gain on the team's good fortune during a lap 204 pit stop, the chassis adjustments ordered sent The Home Depot Chevrolet back to it Jekyll & Hyde act, with Stewart dropping from 15th to 23rd.

The chassis adjustments that were made - a round of wedge into the left rear corner and a pound of air pressure out of the right front tire - were reversed when a caution on lap 218 allowed Stewart to come back into the pits.

Yet even with the car's chassis back to the setting that yielded its best performance of the day, the on-track struggles continued. With the final 29 laps run under green, Stewart was able to claw his way out of the 20s and into the low teens, with 17th being the best he could muster when the checkered flag mercifully fell.

However disappointing the finish may have been, it did little damage to Stewart's point standing. With only two races down in this year's 36-race schedule, Stewart dropped just one spot in the championship point standings, from sixth to seventh, 72 points arrears new series leader and defending series champion Kurt Busch.

Winning the Auto Club 500 was Greg Biffle, who notched his fourth career victory in 80 Nextel Cup starts. Finishing second was Jimmie Johnson, while Busch, Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Comprising the rest of the top-10 were Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Elliott Sadler, Newman and Rusty Wallace.

The Nextel Cup Series takes a weekend off before heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the March 13 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. The race starts at 3 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX.

-jgr-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Carl Edwards , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin