Stewart Bounces Back at Bristol BRISTOL, Tenn., (Aug. 25, 2001) - A win in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series is Tony Stewart's magic bullet. After finishes of 17th, 26th and 27th in his last three outings, Stewart won the Sharpie 500 at Bristol ...
Stewart Bounces Back at Bristol
BRISTOL, Tenn., (Aug. 25, 2001) - A win in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series is Tony Stewart's magic bullet.
After finishes of 17th, 26th and 27th in his last three outings, Stewart won the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway to notch his third win of the season and the 12th of his still young career.
Everything is well again.
Stewart started the 500-lap slugfest from 18th in the field and proved that his #20 Home Depot Pontiac was a steady piece on a very unsteady night.
A race record 16 cautions for a total of 92 laps littered the action on the .533-mile bullring. Stewart not only survived the chaos, but also profited from it.
This was most evident on lap 91, when a three car spin in turn four forced Stewart to dive to the apron of the track. As The Home Depot pilot snaked his way through the smoke, he picked up eight positions and crossed the start/finish line in seventh.
Soon after, Stewart steadily worked his way into the top-five by dismissing Casey Atwood and Mark Martin in relatively short order. From lap 125 on, Stewart would race no lower than fifth.
Despite seemingly continuous yellow flag periods for assorted spins and wrecks, Stewart maintained his composure. He passed Dale Jarrett for fourth-place on lap 193. Steve Park was next in line, and the #20 machine took third from him on lap 206. Stewart's next victim was second-place Rusty Wallace, who yielded the spot on lap 215.
A round of pit stops during yet another caution on lap 235 jumbled the running order slightly, as Kevin Lepage took the point followed by Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Stewart and Kevin Harvick.
When the green flag dropped for the 10th time of the evening, Wallace and Gordon duked it out for the lead. Gordon prevailed, and reassumed his perch at the front of the field. Wallace, meanwhile, rode in second before he was caught and passed by Stewart on lap 293.
Soon Gordon was in the crosshairs, with an orange and white Home Depot Pontiac filling his rear view mirror. It was obvious Stewart wanted the lead, and he did just that on lap 352. His time at the front was short-lived however, as the caution was displayed the very same lap.
All the lead lap cars came to pit road to make their final stops of the evening, as all could now go the distance in the 500-lap marathon.
Gordon came off pit road first with Stewart not too far behind. Harvick was third, with Wallace and Bobby Labonte rounding out the top-five.
The last 140 laps would be a shootout, as Gordon, Stewart and Harvick all had proved themselves worthy of the lead.
Gordon took the lead on the lap 360 restart, and the running order pretty much stayed the same. Gordon's #24 Chevrolet seemed to pull out a sizeable advantage initially, but as the finish drew closer so too did Stewart.
Said crew chief Greg Zipadelli while under caution on lap 395, "We seem to be better on long runs."
Stewart set about proving his crew chief's conclusions, as on lap 415 Stewart radioed, "He's coming to us." Sure enough, the distance between Gordon and Stewart was growing shorter. On lap 432, Stewart took the lead.
Despite being up front, life wasn't all roses. Lapped traffic at Bristol makes a long night even longer, and there was plenty of it for Stewart to deal with. Harvick, meanwhile, was making his case for the lead, and pressured Stewart at every opportunity.
Stewart remained undaunted. He held the lead to the finish, scoring his first win in a 500-lap race.
"Bristol is my favorite track and I've always wanted to win a race here," said Stewart from victory lane. "Everybody's asked me why this is my favorite place to race when I haven't won. It's because there are so many things that can go wrong and everything has to go right to win here. It's just an awesome night.
"We were better on the long runs, and that just seems to be the way it is with us. That's just the way our setups always work. We're never really good for the first 20 laps, but we just get better from there on out.
"Bob Nardelli, our CEO from Home Depot, and his family were here tonight and we really appreciated having them here. They're going to have to start making more time to come to races because they brought us some good luck tonight."
After having led 72 laps en route to his third top-10 finish at Bristol, Stewart maintained his fifth-place spot in the championship point standings. He trails point leader Gordon by 478 points, but fourth-place Sterling Marling is only 60 points away.
Second-place Harvick scored his 10th top-10 finish of the season and became the highest finishing rookie for the 12th time this season. Gordon's third-place run was his sixth straight top-10 finish. Ricky Rudd finished fourth and collected his third straight top-10 finish at Bristol. Fifth went to Wallace, who notched a fourth straight finish of seventh or better at Bristol.
The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on Sept. 2 at 1 p.m. EDT. TNT will provide live coverage of the event.