BRISTOL, Tenn., (March 25, 2001) - Legendary names such as Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace have made Bristol Motor Speedway famous for close-quarter racing - during and after the race. Following Sunday's Food City 500, you can...
BRISTOL, Tenn., (March 25, 2001) - Legendary names such as Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace have made Bristol Motor Speedway famous for close-quarter racing - during and after the race. Following Sunday's Food City 500, you can add Tony Stewart to that list.
Stewart had come a long way from his 37th place starting spot to earn the fourth-place position with a little over 40 laps remaining in the 500-lap race. As the laps wound down, however, fifth-place Jeff Gordon was creeping up on The Home Depot Pontiac. With about three laps to go, Gordon tried to wedge his #24 Chevrolet under Stewart's Pontiac upon entering each corner. On the final lap in the final turn, Gordon's work ethic paid off, but not without controversy.
Gordon's nose touched Stewart's left rear quarterpanel, and with the checkered flag in sight, Stewart spun in the middle of turns three and four. What had been a fourth-place finish turned into a 25th place finish for The Home Depot team.
To let Gordon know that he was not happy with the race's outcome, Stewart re-fired the #20 machine and chased down Gordon on the cool down lap. Upon entering pit road, Stewart caught up to Gordon and punted his flame-painted Chevy into the wall separating pit lane from the race track.
Stewart then casually motored into the garage area and parked his orange and white Pontiac at the back of his transporter. There, a NASCAR official greeted Stewart and escorted him, crew chief Greg Zipadelli and car owner Joe Gibbs to the NASCAR trailer for a meeting with Gordon, #24 crew chief Robbie Loomis and Hendrick Motorsports president John Hendrick. NASCAR president Mike Helton and technical director Gary Nelson joined the closed-door meeting a few minutes later.
Approximately 20 minutes passed and Gordon was the first to exit, while Stewart and Co. was kept a bit longer.
When Stewart finally left the NASCAR trailer, a throng of media was waiting to get his version of the post-race incident with Gordon.
"We just went in the corner on the last lap together," said a calm and collected Stewart. "My spotter told me he was looking low. By looking at the tape, he was a little lower than that. But I didn't see him at the door and I know that any time the roles have been reversed he's expected me to lift.
"It's just racing. It's just Bristol. It's just part of the deal. The reason we ended up in the (NASCAR) trailer is because I spun him on the pit lane and that was wrong. I could have hurt somebody, in all reality. I apologize to Home Depot and all of our sponsors for doing that because that wasn't right.
"It was just hard racing at Bristol. It's just unfortunate that it happened in the last quarter of a lap.
"I've got no hard feelings against Jeff," continued Stewart, "and I don't think he has any against me. We're both open wheel racers who are stock car racers now, and we're both aggressive and we both want to win and we both want to get every spot we can every time we're on the race track. We just had a meeting of the minds in the last quarter of the last lap of a 500-lap race."
As far as Gordon's take on the altercation: "I guess Tony didn't realize I was underneath him down the back straightaway, 'cause it was pretty obvious to me. We were just racing really hard. I got a heck of a run and he slipped coming off of (turn) two. I had my nose in there, and I guess somebody didn't tell him I was there because it was pretty obvious. I did everything I could do to keep from hitting him. I was sideways too, and he just came down. I didn't want it to come down to the last lap like that, but if you've got a position and you've been working on it a long time, you're going to do it and you're going to take everything you can all the way to the end. I thought it was pretty clean."
"NASCAR called us into the trailer to make sure that there weren't any hard feelings," said Stewart, "and there aren't. We're both going to move on from here."
Stewart's 25th place finish dropped him three spots in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings. He now stands 18th, 239 points behind first-place Dale Jarrett.
Staying ahead of the calamity that took place with Stewart and Gordon was Elliott Sadler. The third-year Winston Cup driver scored his first career victory in the Food City 500. In his 75th Winston Cup start, Sadler became the third first-time winner of 2001, joining Michael Waltrip (Daytona) and Kevin Harvick (Atlanta). Sadler's win was the 97th victory for Wood Brothers Racing, as he became the 17th different driver to earn a victory for the storied race team. This was the first win for the Wood Brothers since Morgan Shepherd won at Atlanta in the spring of 1993, and it was their first win ever at Bristol.
Following Sadler to line were John Andretti, Jeremy Mayfield, Gordon and Ward Burton, who finished second through fifth, respectively.
The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the Harrah's 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 1 at 11 a.m. EST. FOX will provide live coverage of the event. -Home Depot Racing