Fort Worth: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart notches Texas best in Samsung/RadioShack 500. FORT WORTH, Texas (April 8, 2002) - Tony Stewart notched his fourth top-five finish in seven races by coming home fifth in Monday's Samsung/RadioShack 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at ...

Stewart notches Texas best in Samsung/RadioShack 500.

FORT WORTH, Texas (April 8, 2002) - Tony Stewart notched his fourth top-five finish in seven races by coming home fifth in Monday's Samsung/RadioShack 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

The stellar outing was Stewart's best finish in four career starts at the 1.5-mile oval, nipping his previous best finish of sixth set back in 1999 in the Primestar 500.

Stewart had to wait a while to get his finish however, as heavy rains inundated the Texas oval first thing Saturday morning. All of Saturday's practice sessions were washed out, and when rain continued on Sunday, NASCAR officials were forced to postpone the race to Monday. By then the rains had moved on, with the clouds slowly giving way to sunshine by the time the green flag dropped at 11 a.m. CDT.

Stewart started the 334-lap race in 29th position with little knowledge as to how his Home Depot Pontiac would perform. With only Friday morning's pre-qualifying practice to work off of, a baseline shock and spring combination chosen by crew chief Greg Zipadelli was mounted on Stewart's #20 machine.

Zipadelli's educated guess proved to be a good one, as by lap 25 Stewart had made his way to 12th. A quick pit stop while under caution on lap 36 cut the margin between Stewart and then leader Dale Jarrett in half, as Stewart was slotted in sixth when the race restarted on lap 41.

Stewart would become a fixture at the front of the field, staying near or within the top-10 for the rest of the afternoon.

But it wasn't all roses. As the sun bore down and the temperature rose, the handling on The Home Depot Pontiac became less than ideal, as it would begin a race run on the loose side before tightening up as the laps wore on. "It's too sensitive," said Stewart over the radio on lap 136. "It changes too much from the beginning to the end of a run. We've got to do something."

Zipadelli did just that. On the next pit stop under green on lap 163, a half round of wedge was added to the left rear, but the change didn't produce the desired result.

Fifteen laps later the caution flag waved and Stewart noted that he was now loose at the beginning of a run. With only 16 cars on the lead lap and Stewart in the 10th spot, Stewart returned to pit road. The six positions he would lose would hopefully be offset by the gains of a successful chassis adjustment.

The gamble paid off. With another round of wedge added to left rear and a spring rubber removed from the right front, The Home Depot Pontiac was much better behaved. By lap 201 Stewart was back in the top-10, and when a series of green flag pit stops began on lap 220, Stewart was poised to take the lead.

By making the extra pit stop on lap 178, Stewart could stay out longer and run harder than his counterparts. As a result, he inherited the lead on lap 235 and the five bonus points that went along with it.

A caution came out on lap 240, and all the front-runners came to pit road. Another quick stop was made by Stewart's crew, and he seemed to beat everyone off pit road, thereby maintaining his lead. But NASCAR officials claimed that the Ford of Matt Kenseth beat Stewart off pit road, so Kenseth was awarded the top spot and a none too happy Stewart was sent to second.

Stewart managed his way back into the lead on lap 249, but a round of yellow flag pit stops on lap 255 ended that reign when Kenseth and Jeff Green beat Stewart out of the pits.

As soon as the race restarted, however, Stewart set his sights on Green, passing him off turn two. Green returned the favor on lap 263, only to have Stewart pass him for the position again on lap 277.

Riding in the second spot, Stewart came into his final pit stop of the day ready to mount a serious challenge on leader Kenseth. Under caution on lap 309, Stewart hit pit road for a four-tire change. Many of those around him, however, took only two tires. And adding to Stewart's pit stay was a jammed lug nut on the left rear wheel. The extra seconds needed for the tires and for the lugnut led to Stewart rejoining the field in eighth-place.

The race resumed with just 22 laps remaining. Stewart charged toward the front, picking off Rusty Wallace for seventh on lap 316, pole-sitter Bill Elliott for sixth on lap 323, and Jimmy Spencer for fifth on lap 325. Fourth-place Ricky Rudd was in Stewart's sights, but time ran out. When the checkered flag waved it was Kenseth with the win - his second of 2002, Jeff Gordon second, Mark Martin third, Rudd fourth and Stewart fifth.

"We had a lot of laps on those tires, and we made the best decision we thought by taking four," said Stewart, explaining his last stop of the day. "We had a little bobble on that stop, but those guys kept giving me good track position all day. All in all, we had a good day. Considering that we didn't come and test and that our practice was rained-out, we'll take a top-five. Track position here is so important. We had a good day. This Home Depot team has a lot to be proud of today. They did a great job."

The great job was further exemplified by Stewart's points gain, as he jumped four spots in the standings, from 12th to eighth. The Home Depot pilot is now 195 points arrears of series point leader Sterling Marlin.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the April 14 Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Live coverage by FX begins at 1 p.m. EDT.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Jimmy Spencer , Jeff Green , Sterling Marlin , Mark Martin