Strong Start for Stewart in Chase for the Championship Home Depot Driver Finishes Second at New Hampshire LOUDON, N.H., (Sept. 18, 2005) - Tony Stewart began his quest for a second NASCAR title by finishing a strong second in Sunday's...
Strong Start for Stewart in Chase for the Championship
Home Depot Driver Finishes Second at New Hampshire
LOUDON, N.H., (Sept. 18, 2005) - Tony Stewart began his quest for a second NASCAR title by finishing a strong second in Sunday's Sylvania 300 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at New Hampshire International Speedway, the first race in NASCAR's 10-race Chase for the Championship. Stewart led six times for a race high 173 laps - the ninth time this season he has led the most laps - before crossing the stripe in second and securing his 13th straight top-10 finish.
"It was a good race," said Stewart, who battled Ryan Newman for the win during the last 15 laps of the 300-lap race. "That's awesome short track racing right there. They (the fans) got their money's worth today. That's the way the race to the Chase should start, just like that. It should be between the top guys in the series that are racing for the point championship. Ryan did an awesome job and we just couldn't hold him off there at the end."
Stewart was dominant for the first two-thirds of the race, but Newman's strength steadily increased as the race wore on, manifesting itself in the final 10 laps.
Following a restart on lap 284, Newman and Stewart were 1-2. Newman got a good jump at the drop of the green, but Stewart reeled him back in, passing him for the lead on lap 292. Stewart held the point for the next seven circuits around the 1.058-mile oval, but Newman was relentless in his pursuit. After trying for several laps to get underneath Stewart's #20 machine, Newman finally made the move stick just before the white flag lap. He motored on to the win while Stewart had to settle for second.
"It's a good start to the Chase," said a subdued Stewart, disappointed with not winning but fully aware of the solid point tally. "I just couldn't hold Ryan off at the end there. He had a good car. He got really good after that red flag period and we got better too, we just had to use up our tires to get to him. I worked so hard to get to him and get underneath him that I used it up getting there."
The red flag period came on lap 196, where after a series of retaliatory on-track incidents amongst competitors, NASCAR deemed it appropriate to bring the field to a stop on pit road while safety crews cleaned the debris from the track. Contact between the cars of Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch on lap 166 and again during the ensuing caution period raised NASCAR's ire, as did Robby Gordon stepping from his crumpled race car and onto the backstretch to throw his helmet at the car of Michael Waltrip.
The cool-down period made the last 100 laps interesting, as the leader's pit strategies played out.
Newman and crew chief Matt Borland set the tone when they short-pitted under green on lap 234, allowing Stewart to regain the lead. Stewart still had to make one last stop, but Newman was good to the finish, with a set of four fresh tires to boot.
As Newman rattled off a series of fast laps, Stewart's lap times decreased as his tires continued to wear.
With Newman gobbling up the distance between him and Stewart, crew chief Greg Zipadelli called Stewart to the pits for four tires and fuel on lap 258.
Now deep in the field, Stewart had to work his way back toward the front. His ascension was aided, however, by those ahead of him making their final pit stops.
But when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ducked onto pit lane for his final stop on lap 266, Stewart was caught off-guard. Pinched on the outside by the #45 of Kyle Petty, Stewart hit Earnhardt's bumper, crinkling the left front fender of The Home Depot Chevy.
As tire smoke billowed from the left front wheel-well, Stewart kept digging. With 30 laps to go he was 10th, chasing down Newman to set up the final 10-lap sprint.
"We had some damage on the left front and that cost us there at the end," said Stewart. "When you go into the corner and you can smell the smoke and see the smoke inside the car, you know you've got a fender rub. You just don't know how severe it is. But there was nothing we could do about it at that point. We were just kind of stuck with what we had.
"It was just tight racing. We did everything we could do today. I think we ran about as good a race as we could run here. We just came up a little short today."
Newman's victory was his 12th career Nextel Cup victory but first of the season and his first since winning at Dover (Del.) in September 2004, 35 races ago. Following Stewart in second was Kenseth, while Greg Biffle and Earnhardt rounded out the top-five. Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick comprised the rest of the top-10.
With one race down in the 10-race Chase for the Championship, Stewart has a 20-point lead over second-place Biffle, a gain of 15 points since the standings were reset in increments of five following last weekend's race at Richmond (Va.).
Live coverage of the MBNA America 400 at Dover International Speedway begins at 12:30 p.m. EDT on TNT.