Home Depot Racing -- Darlington race report

DARLINGTON, S.C., (March 18, 2001) - A potential top-five finish for Tony Stewart in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway ended after a pit road accident with Rusty Wallace on lap 135. With the caution flag waving for oil on the...

DARLINGTON, S.C., (March 18, 2001) - A potential top-five finish for Tony Stewart in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway ended after a pit road accident with Rusty Wallace on lap 135.

With the caution flag waving for oil on the race track, Stewart and the rest of the lead lap cars in the 43-car field headed to pit road for a standard four-tire and fuel pit stop. The Home Depot Racing Team executed the stop perfectly, and Stewart pulled out of his pit stall and drove to the outside lane of pit road intent on resuming his fifth-place position in the running order.

Twelve pit stalls down, however, was Wallace's Ford. He too was receiving service, and once his jackman dropped the jack, Wallace sped out of his pit stall and headed toward the outside lane. The only problem was that Stewart was already occupying that piece of real estate.

"We pulled out of our spot and I was all the way up against the wall," said Stewart, shortly after discussing the matter privately with Wallace. "Rusty pulled out, pulled up beside me, and then for some reason, moved up into us and put us in the wall. That drove the right side of the car up the wall and then down. We were just lucky the car didn't get hurt any more than it did. But it cost us a top-five, because we definitely had a top-five car today."

The damage done wasn't major, but it wasn't minor either. All of the right side sheet metal on The Home Depot Pontiac was crinkled and bent, as was the left side door where Wallace's right front tire had made contact. Additionally, the front valance was bent up and under the nose of the #20 machine. But the damage was only cosmetic, as none of the mechanical aspects of the car were harmed.

Nonetheless, the damaged sheet metal was an aerodynamic hindrance, and it also had the potential to rub and cut the tires. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli calmly coordinated two follow-up pit stops, where the sheet metal was pulled away from the tires and the valance was put back into position. The tires were changed as well, to ensure that nothing else would go wrong. When Stewart returned to track, he was mired in 25th spot.

When green flag racing resumed, he was able to move up to 20th, but the pit road ordeal had put Stewart a lap down. In order to move up any further, Stewart needed to get his lap back.

Thankfully, a small victory for Stewart and Co. came in the form of oil on the race track on lap 225. With the caution lights on, Stewart raced leader Johnny Benson back to the start/finish line and won. He regained his lap and renewed his charge to earn the best finish possible.

With less than 70 laps remaining in the 293-lap race, Stewart picked his way through the running order. When the checkered flag fell, 11 laps after a red flag condition for a fiery, two-car accident in turn three that Stewart narrowly avoided, Stewart brought The Home Depot Pontiac home to a respectable 16th place finish. The outing, as disappointing as it may have been for the team, only dropped Stewart one spot in the point standings to 15th.

Notching his first win of the 2001 season was Dale Jarrett, who won the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 by .527 seconds over second-place Steve Park. In scoring his 25th career victory, Jarrett became the fifth different winner of the 2001 Winston Cup season. He also took the championship point lead, where he holds a 65-point advantage over Sterling Marlin and Benson - both of whom are tied for second in points.

Following Park to the line was Jeremy Mayfield in third, Jimmy Spencer in fourth and Marlin in fifth.

The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on March 25 at 1 p.m. EST. FOX will provide live coverage of the event.

-Home Depot Racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Jeremy Mayfield , Rusty Wallace , Steve Park , Jimmy Spencer , Sterling Marlin , Johnny Benson