Stewart's Indy drive ends in disappointment. SPEEDWAY, Ind., (Aug. 4, 2002) - It started off so well. Tony Stewart, the Hoosier who grew up in nearby Columbus, Ind., wheeled his ...
Stewart's Indy drive ends in disappointment.
SPEEDWAY, Ind., (Aug. 4, 2002) - It started off so well. Tony Stewart, the Hoosier who grew up in nearby Columbus, Ind., wheeled his #20 Home Depot Pontiac to the pole for the ninth annual Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, setting a new track record along the way.
But after leading the field to green for Sunday's 160-lap race, and after leading four times for a total of 43 laps, Stewart's drive to win at the race track he calls home fizzled when the handling of his #20 machine seemingly went away in the final laps, dropping Stewart to a disappointing 12th when the checkered flag waved.
Obviously, it was not the outcome Stewart and The Home Depot Racing Team had expected.
"I don't know what happened," said crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "Early on, it looked like it was a first- or second-place car. Our car just seemed to go away there at the end. It got tighter and tighter, frustration set in and it was all over from there. I don't know. We surely had at least a fourth-place car all day. I don't know what happened at the end, other than - like I said - frustration set in. We've dealt with that enough to know our circumstances, and instead of coming out of here fourth or fifth, we come out of here 12th.
"It's just too bad. Everybody on the Home Depot Pontiac worked hard. We had a good car. The motor department did a phenomenal job. That is, by far, the best motor we've ever had. They gave us something new this week and it lasted all day. I couldn't ask any more of them."
Stewart took the lead right from the start, out-driving eventual race winner Bill Elliott into turn one. Stewart led the next 12 circuits on the 2.5-mile oval before a caution brought the field to pit road for the first round of pit stops.
Stewart emerged from the pits in second, and once the racing resumed on lap 15, it took only two more laps for Stewart to regain the point from Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Home Depot Pontiac was out front for 21 more laps until the second caution of the afternoon brought the field in for another round of scheduled pit stops.
Stewart returned to the track in second once again, this time behind the #9 Dodge of Elliott. The race restarted on lap 42, and Elliott began to showcase the horsepower at his disposal. He led the next 14 laps handily, with Stewart a distant second. A caution on lap 52 put John Andretti on the point for just one lap, as all the lead lap cars darted onto pit road for another round of service. When racing resumed, so too did Elliott's performance. He led another 17 laps, but a two-tire pit stop call by Zipadelli put Stewart back into the lead when the caution flag waved yet again on lap 70.
Stewart was good for a total of seven laps as the race leader before Elliott once again roared to the front on lap 78. The two drivers seemed to have the strongest cars at this point, but the mounts of Robby Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett were hovering in the top-10, seeming to get ever stronger as the race edged closer to its finish.
By lap 90, however, the handling on The Home Depot Pontiac became tight, pushing the front end of the car out toward the wall as Stewart fought the steering wheel through the corners. A pit stop on lap 99 allowed for Zipadelli to address Stewart's handling woes, as a wedge and track bar adjustment were made. The extra time needed for those changes dropped Stewart to sixth in the running order, but they did seem to help.
Stewart worked his way back into the lead on lap 134 thanks to hard driving and savvy pit strategy by Zipadelli. Taking two tires to other teams' four during a round of pit stops on lap 128 allowed Stewart the necessary track position to make one final charge to the front.
Unfortunately, the time spent up front was short-lived. Rusty Wallace took the lead from Stewart on lap 137, and before he knew it, Stewart was drifting backward. Elliott took second on lap 139 and Kenseth took third on lap 149.
A final caution for debris on lap 154 spelled more trouble for Stewart. His tires cooled, and those who had taken four tires over Stewart's two now had the upper hand. Four green flag laps remained, and in that time, Stewart dropped from fourth to 12th.
"The run up to then was great," said team owner Joe Gibbs. "I thought Tony fought his guts out. Our pit crew did. Hey, we gave it our best shot. I thought we had a chance to win and I know it's a bitter disappointment for everybody, including Tony. This is the number one place he wants to try and win a race, and I thought we had a chance today. But, hey, some other people were better today. That's all."
Despite the outcome, Stewart held steady in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings at seventh. The margin between himself and series leader Sterling Marlin now stands at 211 points.
As mentioned earlier, Elliott emerged as the victor for the second straight race weekend. The winner of last Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 scored his 43rd career victory by taking the checkers in the Brickyard 400. Following Elliott to the line were Wallace, Kenseth, Newman and Harvick, who finished second through fifth, respectively.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Aug. 11 Sirius Satellite Radio at The Glen at the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course. Live coverage by NBC begins at 1 p.m. EDT.