Big Day at The Brickyard Tony Stewart Wins the Race and Takes the Point Lead SPEEDWAY, Ind., (Aug. 7, 2005) - Tony Stewart has done it. The driver of the ...
Big Day at The Brickyard
Tony Stewart Wins the Race and Takes the Point Lead
SPEEDWAY, Ind., (Aug. 7, 2005) - Tony Stewart has done it. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing has finally won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 34-year-old Indiana native won Sunday's Allstate 400 at The Brickyard NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race, coming from his 22nd place starting spot to capture a victory so prized that earlier this month he said he would've trade his 2002 championship for it.
No trade was necessary, as Stewart's summer hot streak extended into his hometown track, for his Indy triumph marked his fourth win in the last six races.
"This is one of those days that I don't want to end," said Stewart, who enjoyed an emotional victory with plenty of friends and family sharing in the experience. "I don't want to see the sun set. If I could make this day longer, I'd do it in a heartbeat because it's definitely the greatest day of my life up to this point, professionally and personally. I couldn't ask for more."
In leading a race-high 44 of the 160 laps available and securing his 23rd Nextel Cup victory, Stewart enjoyed a catharsis, as he was finally able to notch a win at a race track that had engrossed him well before he made his first competitive lap at Indy as an IRL rookie in 1996.
"You dream about something for so long you become consumed by it," said Stewart, who was winless at Indy in six Nextel Cup starts and five IRL starts entering this year's Allstate 400. "I drove a tow truck for a guy I raced sprint cars against. And I would drive down 16th Street and wonder what it would be like to be 300 feet to the left running 200 miles-an-hour. I got a chance to do that. Finally today, I got to feel what it feels like, to see what the view is of coming down that front straightaway, seeing those checkered flags as the first driver to go under versus the third or fourth driver."
Stewart's previous races at Indy were filled with near misses. Ill-handling race cars, ill-timed pit stops or mechanical failures always seemed to thwart any shot of victory. And for a moment, Sunday's race appeared that it could turn into another near-miss for Stewart.
After leading laps 100-117 and again through laps 119-133, Stewart found himself in second behind a strong Kasey Kahne, who made an impressive pass of Stewart and his #20 Home Depot Chevrolet through turn three.
Both drivers had pitted for four tires and fuel 16 laps earlier while the race was under caution, and with Kahne and Stewart running 1-2, they checked out on the rest of the field.
But the race's final caution period came on lap 146 when series points leader Jimmie Johnson smacked the turn four wall. And the question presented with both drivers' crew chiefs - Greg Zipadelli for Stewart and Tommy Baldwin for Kahne - was whether or not to pit.
Almost 30 laps of green flag racing had been completed on the sets of Goodyears used by Stewart and Kahne. Questions abounded. Who would pit? If everyone pitted but one driver did not, would he be a sitting duck running on worn-out tires? Or, if everyone stayed out and one driver pitted, would he lose so much track position that the grip allowed by his new tires wouldn't make any difference because only 11 laps would remain when the race went green?
Stewart and Zipadelli debated, with their final decision being to stay out. The strategy proved correct.
"You know, it was just hard to make the decision," said Stewart about the final call to stay out on the race track. "It was hard for me to make it. It was hard for him (Zipadelli) to make it. But he got pretty adamant about thinking that we needed to stay out. I just finally said, 'Hey, whatever you say, we're going to stick by it and we'll do it a hundred percent.' I'm glad he stuck to it because we were going to run out of laps. We would have never got back up through there even if we put four tires on.
"Here it is the biggest race of my life and I'm thinking, 'This is probably going to be our last caution of the day.' This is a make-or-break thing for us."
Stewart took off after Kahne on the lap 150 restart, charging into turn one to get a nose underneath Kahne as they exited onto the short chute before turn two. There, Stewart quickly pulled beneath Kahne and drove ahead of him off turn two.
"When I sailed off into two, I mean, I had the attitude I was either going to win it or wear it," said Stewart.
Obviously, he won it. And it was a win Stewart had wanted since he first wheeled a go-kart at a Westport, Ind., race track when he was seven years old.
"I know part of it hasn't sunk in yet," said Stewart. I'm sure when I get with my family and friends again that it's all going to hit me. Since I was a little kid, I've always wanted to just compete at the Brickyard. Then when I realized that, I was like, we ran so well and missed it so many times, it was like, 'I know I can win at the Brickyard one day.' So finally today was that day.
"I'm the first Indiana-born driver to win the Brickyard 400. That's an award and an honor that I'm proud to have finally."
With the honor comes the point lead in the Nextel Cup championship point standings. Stewart's outstanding day combined with Johnson's DNF (Did Not Finish) that resulted in a 38th place finish vaulted Stewart from second to first in points, 75 markers ahead of now second-place Johnson and 111 points ahead of third-place Biffle.
"We're on a roll," admitted Stewart. "We've got a lot of momentum. We're just doing the same things we've been doing. We found some things that are working for us. It really puts the pressure, I feel like, on everybody else to catch up with us now. We're consistent. We've been good in so many different disciplines right now that I feel like our program's well-rounded enough to go out there and do what we need to do for the end of the season."
Finishing behind Stewart was Kahne, while Brian Vickers, Jeremy Mayfield and Matt Kenseth rounded-out the top-five. Casey Mears, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Sterling Marlin and Kyle Busch comprised the rest of the top-10.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Aug. 14 Sirius At The Glen at the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course. The race begins at 1:35 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC.