Stewart Down, But Not Out Crash at New Hampshire Puts Home Depot Driver in Points Hole LOUDON, N.H., (Sept. 19, 2004) - It was what every NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver competing in the Chase for the Championship feared - a DNF (Did Not...
Stewart Down, But Not Out
Crash at New Hampshire Puts Home Depot Driver in Points Hole
LOUDON, N.H., (Sept. 19, 2004) - It was what every NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver competing in the Chase for the Championship feared - a DNF (Did Not Finish). A poor finish with the accompanying poor point tally in a 10-race dash for the series title could doom any one of the top-10 driver's championship aspirations.
And in the opening salvo of the Chase for the Championship with Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, Tony Stewart's worst fear became reality. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet was caught up in a wreck not of his making on lap 64, and with severe damage prohibiting Stewart from running competitive lap times, he was forced to retire early from the 300-lap race. The end result was a 39th place finish.
"I don't think any of us are going to get Mulligans," said a calm but dejected Stewart in the garage area. "We're leaving here early because we've got a torn up race car that got involved in somebody else's wreck. That's probably going to take us out of the championship. We'll have another car for next weekend and we'll come out and try to get this Home Depot Monte Carlo up front."
The accident that swallowed Stewart and fellow championship contender Jeremy Mayfield came via Robby Gordon, who seemed to trigger the four-car accident in retaliation for an earlier incident with Greg Biffle.
On lap 17, Biffle and Gordon made contact in turn one which sent Gordon spinning into the outside retaining wall. When the two drivers met again on lap 64, Gordon returned the favor, spinning Biffle while coming off turn two. As Biffle spun, he sideswiped Mayfield's left door, significantly crinkling the #19 Dodge. Biffle then slid down off the corner and right into Stewart's path, with the nose of the #20 drilling the #16 painted on Biffle's passenger side door.
The damage to Stewart's ride was severe. The nose was pushed in almost a foot, with the radiator being the main casualty. There was no choice but to bring The Home Depot Chevrolet behind the pit wall. Once there, crew members began sawing away the broken pieces before replacing them with makeshift pieces. Forty-six laps later, Stewart returned to the 1.058-mile oval driving what amounted to a flying brick.
"This thing feels like it's about a foot off the ground," said Stewart after making just one lap, a far cry from the way it felt when it led 16 laps at the beginning of the race.
With his car both ugly and slow, NASCAR was forced to send Stewart to the garage area for not maintaining the minimum speed requirement - lap times above 32.17 seconds.
"Well, it wasn't but two years ago that we left Daytona 43rd and came back and won (the championship)," said Stewart. "So, it can happen again this year. But to try to make up that amount of points in nine more races is virtually impossible. You can't do it with only nine more races to go. That's been my concern all along about this and it happened to us in the first race. But I can promise you one thing, this team has never given up and they're not going to give up now."
"It ain't over 'til it's over," echoed crew chief Greg Zipadelli in Yogi Berra-esque fashion. "It's just disappointing. We end up where we end up. But that's just the breaks. When you race with idiots, some things are going to happen. We're going to Dover (Del.) next week to win. That's all."
Winning the Sylvania 300 and getting a good start in the championship chase was Kurt Busch. He led three times for 155 laps - the most of any driver - to score the maximum amount of points possible (190). The win also gave Busch a sweep of the New Hampshire Nextel Cup races, as the Roush Racing driver wound up New Hampshire's victory lane when the series first visited the Granite State in July. Finishing behind Busch was teammate Kenseth, while Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray rounded-out the rest of the top-five. Comprising the remainder of the top-10 were Joe Nemechek, Jeff Gordon, Sadler, Michael Waltrip and Kevin Harvick.
Live coverage of the MBNA America 400 at Dover International Speedway begins at 1 p.m. EDT on TNT.