Stewart and Co. Salvage 15th-Place Finish at Homestead Home Depot Team Overcomes Ill-Handling Race Car to Post 24th Top-15 of 2006 With the same car that won three times during the 10-race Chase for the Championship, Tony Stewart and the No. 20...
Stewart and Co. Salvage 15th-Place Finish at Homestead
Home Depot Team Overcomes Ill-Handling Race Car to Post 24th Top-15 of 2006
With the same car that won three times during the 10-race Chase for the Championship, Tony Stewart and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team struggled to earn a 15th-place finish in the season-ending Ford 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
While the top-15 finish was a disappointment by the high standards set by Stewart and Co., the result was impressive considering that at one point during the 268-lap race on the 1.5-mile oval, Stewart was 36th and one lap down to the leader.
"I'm proud of you guys," said Stewart to his crew as he crossed the finish line for the final time this season. "This is why we were champions last year and why we'll be champions again."
The two-time Nextel Cup champion started 21st and fought an evil race car, as it went from overly tight to extremely loose during the course of a race run. But crew chief Greg Zipadelli kept tinkering with the car's chassis setup on each of the team's 10 pit stops. The result was a car that was good enough to earn its lap back on lap 205 and rally to earn the team's 24th top-15 finish of 2006.
"It's hard to believe this is the same car that won Kansas, Atlanta and Texas for us," said Stewart. "It might as well have been a different car. We did the best we could with it. I mean, it was a terror early in the race, but Zippy and all the guys kept working on it. There at the end, we finally had something that gave us a decent finish."
While the season finale didn't end the way anyone at Joe Gibbs Racing would've liked, the 2006 season was still a strong year for the No. 20 team. Despite not making the Chase for the Championship, Stewart and the orange-and-black attack earned five wins - three of which came during the Chase. And when they weren't winning, they still ran well, earning 15 top-fives and 19 top-10s while leading a series best 1,360 laps.
Stewart secured his 11th-place point standing last week at Phoenix. He ended the year with a dominating 299-point margin over 12th-place Carl Edwards.
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished third and 30th, respectively, in the Ford 400.
Hamlin's eighth top-five finish of 2006 earned him the 2006 Rookie of the Year title. He ended the season third in points, the best point result ever for a rookie in NASCAR's modern era (1972-present). Stewart previously held the record, as he finished fourth during his rookie year in 1999. James Hylton, who scored two career NASCAR victories, still holds the record for best championship finish by a rookie all-time with a second-place finish in the 1966 point standings.
Yeley, who was leading with 15 laps remaining before running out of fuel three laps short of the finish, ended his rookie year 29th in points.
Greg Biffle scored his 11th career Nextel Cup victory and his second of the season by winning the Ford 400. It marked Biffle's third consecutive win at Homestead, as he also won the season-finale in 2004 and 2005.
Martin Truex Jr., finished second, while Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick secured the rest of the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Scott Riggs, Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Johnson's ninth-place finish earned him his first Nextel Cup championship. He ended the season with 6,475 points, 56 markers ahead of runner-up Kenseth.
The 2007 Nextel Cup season kicks off February 9-18 with the traditional Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The 49th Daytona 500, the first point-paying race of the season, is scheduled for Feb. 18 and will be broadcast live and in high-definition on FOX.