STEWART RALLIES FOR TOP-10 FINISH IN FONTANA Home Depot Driver Overcomes Pit Road Speeding Penalty Tony Stewart ran three races in one during Sunday's Auto Club 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at California Speedway in Fontana. The driver of...
STEWART RALLIES FOR TOP-10 FINISH IN FONTANA
Home Depot Driver Overcomes Pit Road Speeding Penalty
Tony Stewart ran three races in one during Sunday's Auto Club 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at California Speedway in Fontana. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet led four times for 28 laps, but had to overcome a pit road speeding penalty that sent him from first to 21st with 90 laps remaining. Stewart rallied his way to eighth when the checkered flag dropped to score his sixth top-10 finish in his 11 career Nextel Cup races at California.
"We had a good car, that's for sure," said Stewart after the race, still bristling from the pit road infraction. "I was 300 rpm below what I needed to maintain pit road speed. So, unless the line (where a timing light is set up) is in a spot where I don't know it's at... I don't know. NASCAR has all that computer stuff and it tells you exactly when and where, so I'll be interested to see it."
Stewart's first drive to the front came quickly. He started 11th, but by just the third lap around the 2-mile oval, he was fourth.
A caution-filled start to the race altered the team's strategy, as three cautions for 12 laps in the race's first 23 laps went against California's history of providing long, green flag runs right from the start.
As a result, Stewart had to pit under caution on lap 21 for four tires and fuel. This sent him back to 30th, as many of his competitors had pitted during the two previous caution periods.
But the trip backward was of little matter, as Stewart climbed to 15th by lap 48. With a long, green flag run finally presenting itself, Stewart drove his Home Depot Chevrolet to fifth by lap 53 before a caution ended the stint.
Thanks to quick pit work by The Home Depot over-the-wall crew, Stewart restarted in third on lap 59. A lap later he was second after passing Bobby Labonte for the position, and on lap 66 Stewart took first from eventual race winner Matt Kenseth.
Stewart ran up front for the next 100 laps, trading the lead with other challengers such as Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. But when Stewart was called by NASCAR officials for speeding on his entry to pit road en route to a scheduled pit stop on lap 159, he was jettisoned to 21st via a pit road pass-through penalty on the following lap.
"It's still a long way to go," said crew chief Greg Zipadelli over the radio. "We're still on the lead lap. Take care of that thing."
Stewart did just that, rising to 16th with 75 laps to go. By lap 190 he was 11th, and again with quick pit work by his crew, was able to re-enter the top-10 after a four-tire pit stop on lap 198 gained him a position.
Stewart climbed to seventh before the red flag waved for rookie driver David Reutimann's hard crash on lap 243. With only seven laps remaining, Stewart and Zipadelli discussed their options once the red flag was lifted -- stay out or pit, and if they pitted, change two tires or all four?
"We had to do something," said Stewart. "We knew the guys behind us were going to take tires. We were kind of right in the middle of a cut-off point. We knew a certain amount of guys were going to take four, and the rest of them were going to stay out since they were a little further up there. So, we just took the chance."
The No. 20 team changed four tires and filled the tank with fuel, dropping Stewart to 11th when the green flag dropped for the final time on lap 246. In five laps Stewart passed his Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammate J.J. Yeley, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch to creep up to eighth.
Stewart's JGR teammates -- Denny Hamlin and Yeley -- finished 11th and 13th, respectively, in the Auto Club 500.
Yeley continues to lead the trio of JGR drivers in the championship point race, as his 13th-place finish moved him up two spots to eighth in the standings. Hamlin and Stewart occupy the 18th and 21st positions, respectively. Hamlin gained 10 positions via his 11th-place result, while Stewart gained 18 positions care of his eighth-place finish.
Kenseth's victory in the Auto Club 500 was his 15th career Nextel Cup victory and his second at California. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finished second and third, respectively, while Jeff Burton and Mark Martin rounded out the top-five. Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Stewart, Kyle Busch and Vickers comprised the remainder of the top-10.
The Nextel Cup Series takes a weekend off before heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the March 11 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400.