Reversal of Fortune for Stewart at Homestead HOMESTEAD, Fla., (Nov. 11, 2001) - Had you left your grandstand seat or turned off your television set prior to lap 230 of the Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, you would've thought that Tony...
Reversal of Fortune for Stewart at Homestead
HOMESTEAD, Fla., (Nov. 11, 2001) - Had you left your grandstand seat or turned off your television set prior to lap 230 of the Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, you would've thought that Tony Stewart had rolled to his third straight victory at 1.5-mile oval.
Stewart's Home Depot Pontiac had paced the field for 72 laps, the most of any driver, and he appeared just as strong as he did in 1999 and 2000 during his previous Homestead romps.
But with 37 laps remaining in the 267-lap contest, all that changed. After a routine pit stop to change four tires and add fuel while under caution on lap 225, Stewart's once dominant machine began to fade immediately upon the lap 229 restart.
Complaining vehemently about the performance of the tires his team had just bolted onto the #20 machine, Stewart slipped back to ninth before the final caution flag of the day waved on lap 251.
With the majority of the field favoring track position over pitting for fresh tires, pit road was nearly empty.
Stewart, however, was in the minority. Feeling that he would fall back further with the set of tires on his car, Stewart voiced his opinion that a pit stop was necessary.
The decision to pit was made, albeit late.
The pit entrance at Homestead begins at the end of the backstretch, just before turn three. The pit lane serves as a separate piece of pavement from the racing surface, and it continues through turn four before finally meeting with the frontstretch pit area. A grassy median separates the two, and if a driver is to commit to pit road, he needs to do it where the pit lane begins.
When Stewart elected to pit, he was well into turn three. He crossed through the grass, hit the pit lane and then made his way toward The Home Depot pit stall. Four new tires were added, and Stewart returned to the track.
NASCAR took issue with Stewart's off-road excursion en route to the pit lane, sending him to the tail end of the longest line when the race restarted for the final time on lap 255. Stewart was relegated to 25th in the running order, a far cry from the first-place status he enjoyed much of the day.
When the checkered flag waved on Stewart's episode of The Twilight Zone, he had clawed his way to 19th.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, with the look of frustration on the faces of Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli apparent to everyone.
Stewart quickly changed into his street clothes and headed to his motorcoach, while Zipadelli offered his rendering of what went wrong on a day that seemed to be going so well.
"We got a set of tires from Goodyear that were made six months ago," said Zipadelli, alluding to the set of tires the team took on during their second to last pit stop. "That really hurt us at the end. I guess it just wasn't our day.
"The guys did a great job in the pits all day and Tony drove a great race. He's been really sick all weekend with a pretty bad cold. It's just a shame because we should've had a win, and if not, at least a good second or third-place finish. But it just didn't work out that way."
Despite the disappointing run, Stewart maintained his third-place standing in points. Second-place Ricky Rudd soldiered to a 21st place finish after a pit road incident, while fourth-place Dale Jarrett limped to a 41st place finish while battling mechanical gremlins.
Enjoying a much better fate was Bill Elliott, who snapped a 226-race winless streak dating back to Darlington (S.C.) in September of 1994. Elliott started from the pole and led a total of 59 laps to notch his 41st career victory. Michael Waltrip came home second with rookie Casey Atwood, Jeff Burton and Sterling Marlin rounding out the top-five.
Championship point leader Jeff Gordon finished a dismal 28th, but lost only 21 points to Rudd. All Gordon must do is start the final two Winston Cup events in Atlanta and New Hampshire and he will win his fourth NASCAR Winston Cup Series title.
The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Nov. 18 at 12:30 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by NBC.