Indianapolis: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart Bounces Back at Brickyard 400 Home Depot Driver Recovers From Early-Race Spin to Finish Fifth SPEEDWAY, Ind., (Aug. 8, 2004) - It wasn't the highly coveted win Tony Stewart has yearned for at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but...

Stewart Bounces Back at Brickyard 400
Home Depot Driver Recovers From Early-Race Spin to Finish Fifth

SPEEDWAY, Ind., (Aug. 8, 2004) - It wasn't the highly coveted win Tony Stewart has yearned for at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but his fifth-place finish in Sunday's Brickyard 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race felt almost as good.

Stewart battled an ill-handling race car throughout the 161-lap race, and making the charge from his 24th place starting position to fifth even more impressive was his unassisted spin on lap 22.

"I just got down on the rumple strips and got loose," said Stewart, who's typically orange and black Chevrolet was painted silver for the Brickyard 400 in recognition of The Home Depot's 25th anniversary. "I was trying to keep the left front fender down under Jimmie (Johnson) to keep it in clean air. We just got down there too much and got the left rear up on top of it enough that it made it lose traction and spun around.

"I kept driving it, though. I knew it was going into the outside wall. I stayed on the gas. When I noticed that it was driving away from the wall I locked it up to slow it down. I got off the brakes and got the nose drug around and stuck it back in gear and took off again. It wasn't a lucky deal, by any means. It was an unfortunate deal. I wish I wouldn't have gotten myself in that position."

Stewart's savvy driving meant that he lost only four positions, as he had been running 10th before emerging in 14th following a four-tire change in the pits.

Making the most of his averted disaster, Stewart drove back into the top-10 after a lap 32 restart. He climbed to fifth by lap 50, where he proved a mainstay until just before the halfway mark.

After another restart on lap 78, Stewart appeared to rally as he passed Dale Jarrett for fourth on lap 78 and Matt Kenseth for third on lap 79. But it would be as high as Stewart would climb, as Kenseth reclaimed the spot six laps later.

When the caution flag flew on lap 87, another round of pit stops was in order. Stewart pulled in for scheduled service but stalled the car on exit. The momentary hiccup proved costly, as instead of returning to the track in fourth, Stewart was 10th.

As the Indiana native drove his Home Depot Chevrolet back toward the front yet again, he did so while dealing with a chassis that seemed immune to adjustment.

"This thing is so temperamental," radioed Stewart to crew chief Greg Zipadelli as another caution flag waved on lap 123. "It's not sure what it wants to do. Sometimes it's tight and sometimes it's loose."

Whatever modifications Zipadelli called for - air pressure changes, wedge adjustments, track bar positioning, etc. - the car would not respond. Stewart simply had to manhandle it to the finish.

And with the finish in sight, Stewart seemed destined to notch a respectable eighth-place result. With just 20 laps remaining, Kasey Kahne was solidly ahead in seventh while Stewart was pulling away from ninth-place Greg Biffle.

But a crash between Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers on lap 156 set up a wild ending.

As track safety crews worked to clean up the debris from the two-car crash, it was evident that NASCAR's newly instituted green-white-checker-style finish would come into play.

With cleanup efforts complete after lap 159, the race returned to green on lap 160. Stewart held steady in eighth when he took the white flag for the final circuit on lap 161. But as the cars entered turn three of the 2.5-mile oval, debris in the form of a piece of brake rotor wreaked havoc on a handful of drivers racing in the top-10.

Kenseth, who had been running a close second to leader Jeff Gordon, ran over the debris, cut a tire and limped home to a 16th place finish. Mark Martin, another driver ahead of Stewart, did the same, cutting a tire to struggle across the line in 25th. And Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had been running sixth, did likewise, finishing 27th with smoke pouring from the remains of his left front tire. Stewart emerged from the minefield of debris unscathed. And as he came down the front straightaway for the final time, he keyed his mic and said, "Boys, you're not going to believe where we're going to end up."

Sure enough, as Gordon passed by in the lead with Dale Jarrett, Elliott Sadler and Kahne in tow, it was Stewart who rounded-out the top-five.

"It wasn't a fifth-place car, by any means," said Stewart.  "But the guys
kept working and we just kept digging and got a fifth out of it.  That's
as good as a victory for the way this thing drove all day.  But these
guys worked their tails off all day yesterday.  They worked really hard
at the test after I crashed a car here.  The car not driving well wasn't
due to a lack of effort.  I mean, these guys changed everything they
could change on it.  It's just that we couldn't get it right.

"To come home fifth today and finish up after spinning early and not hitting anything and all the stuff we had to battle with today - stalling the motor on a pit stop, never really having a car that had a good balance, getting through all the debris on that last lap - we're pretty happy with it. We were loose. We were tight. We could never get it right. Considering what we had, I thought we had a pretty good day."

Stewart's rationale was backed up by his point standing. His DNF (Did Not Finish) at the previous race in Pocono (Pa.) had dropped him to fifth, but with his eighth top-five finish of 2004 care of his Brickyard 400 result, Stewart regained fourth by a healthy margin. Fifth-place Kenseth is now 23 markers back, while sixth-place Sadler is 87 points behind Stewart. A more daunting 334 points separates Stewart from series leader Johnson, while second-place Gordon is 237 points ahead and third-place Earnhardt is 94 points away.

As mentioned earlier, Jeff Gordon won the Brickyard 400 to score his 69th career Nextel Cup victory. It was his fourth Brickyard 400 triumph (1994, 1998, 2001 and 2004), joining him to an elite group of drivers who have won four times at the legendary oval in Indy car competition - A.J. Foyt (1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977), Rick Mears (1979, 1984, 1988 and 1991) and Al Unser Sr. (1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987).

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Aug. 15 Sirius At The Glen road course race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Live coverage begins at 2 p.m. EDT on TNT.

-hdr/jgr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Greg Biffle , Ryan Newman , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Brian Vickers