Stewart Fifth at Phoenix AVONDALE, Ariz., (Oct. 28, 2001) - Tony Stewart wanted a win in his 100th NASCAR Winston Cup Series start, but when the checkered flag waved on the Checker Auto Parts 500k at Phoenix International Raceway, Stewart had ...
Stewart Fifth at Phoenix
AVONDALE, Ariz., (Oct. 28, 2001) - Tony Stewart wanted a win in his 100th NASCAR Winston Cup Series start, but when the checkered flag waved on the Checker Auto Parts 500k at Phoenix International Raceway, Stewart had to settle for fifth-place.
It was by no means disappointing, as Stewart was the top-finishing Pontiac on a leader board filled with Fords.
Six of the top-10 finishers drove with a blue oval on their nose, prompting Stewart to claim that he was "best in class" following the 312-lap race.
The run marked Stewart's eighth top-10 finish in the last nine races, a feat that has helped solidify Stewart's third-place standing in the championship points race. Fourth-place Dale Jarrett trails Stewart by 62 points, while second-place Ricky Rudd is just ahead of Stewart with an 84-point margin.
"We just missed the setup a little bit," said Stewart as he cooled down, literally, in the lounge of the team transporter. "But a top-five still, that's a great day for us. I think we pulled away from the guys behind us in the points. We were hoping to catch Ricky (Rudd) a little bit today, but he had a strong car too. So, we're pretty happy with a top-five."
Earning that top-five wasn't easy, especially on a day where the air temperature hovered around 100 degrees.
Stewart started from 22nd on the grid, but quickly worked his way toward the front. By lap 10 he had cracked the top-15, and with the help of a quick pit stop while under caution on lap 34, Stewart broke into the top-10.
Stewart rose to sixth, but a Home Depot Pontiac that became increasingly loose as a race run wore on began to fade. By lap 138, Stewart had dropped to 11th, but constant chassis adjustments made by crew chief Greg Zipadelli kept Stewart well within the top-10.
As a result, Stewart methodically picked his way closer to fifth. He picked off Dale Earnhardt Jr. for 10th on lap 166, Bobby Labonte for ninth on lap 169, and John Andretti for eighth on lap 178.
Cut right front tires by Rusty Wallace and Casey Atwood enabled Stewart to pick up two more spots, placing Stewart in sixth on lap 194. Just before a caution came out on lap 202, Stewart passed Johnny Benson for fifth. Quick pit work on that caution enabled Stewart to pick up fourth, but a strong Mike Wallace soon took back the spot on the ensuing restart.
Fifth would be Stewart's position for the remainder of the race, while the Ford of Jeff Burton checked out on the rest of the field, leaving Ford pilots Mike Wallace and Rudd to fight over second. Wallace wound up winning that battle, as Rudd was jettisoned to third. Matt Kenseth, also in a Ford, was a distant fourth, with Stewart handily ahead of sixth-place Jeff Gordon.
Burton's win was his 17th career victory, as well as his second straight at Phoenix. He led the most laps by pacing the field for 102 circuits, the third time he has done so this season.
Gordon continues to make a mockery of the championship chase, as his sixth-place run put him even closer to his fourth Winston Cup title. All Gordon must do is finish 24th or better in the remaining four races and he will win the championship, regardless of the performance of any other driver.
The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. The race, set to take place on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. EST, will be telecast live by NBC.