No Blue Light Special for Stewart in Kmart 400 BROOKLYN, Mich., (June 10, 2001) - Tony Stewart didn't find the blue light special in Sunday's Kmart 400 at Michigan International Speedway. A 25th place finish and a loss of 47 points in the chase...
No Blue Light Special for Stewart in Kmart 400
BROOKLYN, Mich., (June 10, 2001) - Tony Stewart didn't find the blue light special in Sunday's Kmart 400 at Michigan International Speedway. A 25th place finish and a loss of 47 points in the chase for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship did, however, find their way into Stewart's shopping bag.
"Today was a long day," said Stewart. "I know this race was 400 miles, but it felt like 500."
The race probably felt long for Stewart because the weekend was long.
In the waning minutes of Friday morning's practice session prior to qualifying, a problem was detected in the engine of the #20 car. A quick engine change was made as the clock ticked closer to qualifying, but the backup engine wasn't as stout as the primary. Stewart's 39.111-second lap around the two-mile oval was just 45th quickest overall, which relegated The Home Depot Pontiac to a provisional starting spot. With their fourth-place position in car owner points secure, Stewart was slotted 37th on the grid.
Saturday's two practice sessions were moderately better, as the team was able to tune the car a bit more to their liking. Still, coming to terms with the tire compound Goodyear brought to Michigan was puzzling Stewart, and the frustration showed on his face.
Nonetheless, crew chief Greg Zipadelli felt that the team learned some valuable information during Saturday's final practice, and the overall mood of the race team was upbeat as race day dawned.
The attitude of the race team seemed to be reflected in the performance of the race car during the opening laps. Stewart had moved up to 30th when the first caution flag flew on lap 11, and on the subsequent pit stop, The Home Depot over-the-wall crew performed a stellar 14.42-second pit stop. The team's quick work earned Stewart five more spots on the race track, allowing Stewart to climb to 25th.
Another caution waved on lap 17, and instead of playing follow the leader onto pit road, Zipadelli made the call to keep Stewart out on the race track, opting for track position over fresh rubber. It proved to be a smart move, as Stewart jumped to ninth.
The #20 machine ran solidly in the top-10 until lap 82, when a standard four-tire pit stop went slightly awry. As Stewart sped away, there was a question as to whether all the lugnuts on the left rear tire were tight. Erring on the side of safety, Zipadelli had Stewart return to pit road. The unscheduled pit stop dropped Stewart all the way back to 37th and off the lead lap shortly thereafter.
When the race returned to green, Stewart slowly worked his way through the field, running as high as 20th by lap 140. But with Jeff Gordon setting a blistering pace, it was only a matter of time before Stewart went another lap down to the leader. Lap 157 would be that time.
When the checkered flag mercifully waved at the conclusion of lap 200, Stewart was the first driver two laps down. His 25th place finish dropped him one spot in the point standings to fifth, 205 markers behind new point leader Gordon.
"It wasn't a very fun day," said Stewart. "We aren't very good in a straight line right now, so we've got to go to work. Our cars are driving well, it's just a matter of trying to get some speed out of them to where we can run with some of those other cars out there. We'll just keep working at it."
Gordon's second win in as many races vaulted him past Dale Jarrett for the top spot in the point standings, as Jarrett now trails Gordon by 26 points.
Challenging Gordon at the line was a persistent Ricky Rudd, who earned his second runner-up finish of the year. Rounding out the top-five were Sterling Marlin, Jeremy Mayfield and rookie Ryan Newman, respectively.
The Winston Cup Series returns to action June 17 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for the Pocono 500. The race, set to begin at 1 p.m. EDT, will be telecast live on FOX.