Stewart Makes His Point at Sears Point SONOMA, Calif., (June 24, 2001) - There was no doubt in Tony Stewart's mind that he could beat Jeff Gordon at Sears Point Raceway, despite the fact that Gordon had won the past three NASCAR Winston Cup...
Stewart Makes His Point at Sears Point
SONOMA, Calif., (June 24, 2001) - There was no doubt in Tony Stewart's mind that he could beat Jeff Gordon at Sears Point Raceway, despite the fact that Gordon had won the past three NASCAR Winston Cup Series races held at the 2-mile road course.
"I had him beat last year before I got sick during the race," said Stewart in the days leading up to the Dodge/Save Mart 350k, referring to his need last year for a relief driver 70 laps into the 112-lap race.
A healthy Stewart proved his point this year in just his third Sears Point start by notching his 11th career victory and his first on a road course by winning the Dodge/Save Mart 350k in convincing fashion.
In the race, a driver named Gordon was again a factor, but this time it was Robby Gordon, the veteran road racer who had replaced Mike Wallace in the #7 Ford.
The former CART Series driver who has tried his hand at stock car racing a number of different times with a number of different teams over the past five years had been tabbed by team owner Jim Smith to showcase his road racing experience in the #7 ride.
Robby Gordon did not disappoint, but neither did that other Gordon - Jeff. Both Gordons (unrelated) proved that they belonged up front, as Jeff led 55 laps and Robby led 20. But the last 11 circuits of the 112-lap race were paced by Stewart, who had stayed within top-three for the majority of the race.
The defining moment of the race occurred on lap 101, while Robby Gordon, who was leading at the time, was trying to keep the Chevrolet of rookie Kevin Harvick a lap down.
Stewart had already pushed his Home Depot Pontiac past Jeff Gordon for second on lap 96, and both crossed the start/finish line just after Harvick was exiting pit road after having been slapped with a stop-and-go penalty for speeding on pit lane.
Harvick's fresh tires allowed him to catch up to Robby Gordon with Stewart and Jeff Gordon in tow.
"We caught a break by getting out in front of Jeff right before Kevin Harvick came out of the pits," said Stewart. "With Robby racing Kevin like he was, that was giving Jeff and I an opportunity to catch up. Before that I thought that the '7' car was the class of the field at the beginning of a run, but after a while he wound up coming back to us."
With the cars of Robby Gordon, Harvick, Stewart and Jeff Gordon running tightly through the twists and turns of the California wine country, Stewart made his move through the esses on lap 101 as Harvick and Robby Gordon were running side by side.
"We just waited for the right opportunity and it came off of Turn 7 when those two guys were side by side," said Stewart. "Then the yellow came out and we raced Robby back to the yellow. Normally we don't race back to the caution flag in this series, but track position was so important here that everyone was racing back to the yellow. There wasn't much choice in the matter."
The lap 102 caution was for a Ron Fellows/Bill Elliott altercation on the frontstretch. Once that was cleaned up and the race went back to green on lap 105, Stewart managed to get a good, clean jump on Robby Gordon. From there it was a battle for second between the Gordons Robby and Jeff, with Robby emerging the victor in runner-up honors. He crossed the stripe 1.746 seconds behind Stewart, with Jeff Gordon, Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace rounding out the top-five.
Not only was the win Stewart's first on a road course, but it was also the first road course victory for Joe Gibbs Racing.
"To win on a road course and to give Joe Gibbs Racing its first road course win makes me feel pretty good," said Stewart. "We also beat Jeff Gordon. We've beat him at other places too, but to beat him here where he's been so dominant for so long makes this win pretty special."
The win also bumped Stewart to fourth in points, 234 behind current leader Jeff Gordon.
The Winston Cup Series enjoys its last off-weekend June 30-July 1 before returning to action July 7 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the Pepsi 400. The race, set to begin at 8 p.m. EDT, will be telecast live on NBC.