Loudon II: Tony Stewart race report

Smart Pit Call Earns Stewart Second at New Hampshire Home Depot Driver Scores 11th Top-Five of 2006 Tony Stewart finished second in Sunday's Sylvania 300 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon because ...

Smart Pit Call Earns Stewart Second at New Hampshire
Home Depot Driver Scores 11th Top-Five of 2006

Tony Stewart finished second in Sunday's Sylvania 300 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon because at the end of the race, he had four fresh tires while those around him had only two.

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli conferred with Stewart and together they made the call for four tires rather than two during the race's second to last caution on lap 267.

As most everyone else in the top-10 took two tires, Stewart's No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet was shod with four fresh Goodyears. The extra time on pit road dropped Stewart from fifth to eighth, but with still 30 laps remaining in the 300-lap race, it was plenty of time for the two-time and reigning series champion to make one last charge to the front.

"Zippy asked me on that second to last caution whether he thought we ought to stay out or come pit. I said that we weren't good enough to win right now, and we've got nothing to lose so we've got to go for the win," said Stewart.

"So, we came in and pitted and it ended up working out for us.  We're
really happy with the day.  The Home Depot crew did an awesome job."

Stewart's win-or-bust attitude stems from being eliminated from the 10-driver, 10-race Chase for the Championship, as he fell 16 points shy of making the Chase Sept. 9 at Richmond (Va.). The best point finish Stewart can attain is 11th, something that's of little motivation to the 26-time Nextel Cup race winner.

However, acquiring more race trophies - something that motivated Stewart from the time he began racing go-karts at age eight - is what drives Stewart when there's no championship to be won.

"The pressure is off," said Stewart. "Not that that's what we were looking to do, by any means. But now we're now able to do all those things that we wouldn't normally be able to do in a points situation when you can't take those chances. We have the flexibility to take each race and strictly do what we've always wanted to do, and that's just to try and win the race.

"Even though you try and win the race, a lot of times in a points situation you can't take chances doing that. It's our goal each week to win. We weren't able to always do that, but now, for sure, 100 percent, we can go out there and strictly do whatever it takes to win."

Stewart almost won at New Hampshire, as he came from 32nd in the 43-car field to 10th by lap 46. He continued his upward climb to become a top-10 mainstay, scratching his way to fifth by lap 180.

Breaking through toward fourth-place and beyond proved difficult though, as Stewart's Home Depot Chevrolet wouldn't allow him the grip he needed in the center of the corners.

But Zipadelli's constant chassis adjustments made the No. 20 machine stout when it needed to be, allowing Stewart to climb from eighth to second in the final 30 laps - a charge that included passing four-time champion Jeff Gordon on the outside in turns one and two with only three laps to go.

"Jeff was racing hard and you didn't want to get in the middle of the championship he's fighting for," said Stewart. "But at the same time, we've got a race to win too. When he went to the bottom and committed himself down there, I went to the top. The good thing is that it stuck and I got a good run off of (turn) two."

Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished fourth and eighth, respectively. It was the first time since October 2005 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway that all three JGR drivers finished in the top-10 during the same race. The finish was somewhat similar in that event, as Stewart finished second, former JGR driver Bobby Labonte finished fourth and Hamlin finished eighth.

Hamlin continues to lead the trio of JGR drivers in the championship point standings, as he is the lone JGR representative in the Chase for the Championship. Hamlin climbed three spots to second in points, 35 markers behind series leader Kevin Harvick.

Stewart maintained his 11th place point standing and has a healthy 313-point lead over 12th place Greg Biffle.

Yeley gained one spot and is now 26th in points, just 33 markers outside the top-25.

Harvick earned the point lead by winning the Sylvania 300. It was his ninth career Nextel Cup victory, his second straight win and his fourth this season. Behind Stewart in third was Jeff Gordon, while Hamlin and Brian Vickers secured the rest of the top-five. Elliott Sadler, Jeff Burton, Yeley, Dave Blaney and Matt Kenseth comprised the rest of the top-10.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule - the second race of the 10-race Chase for the Championship - is the Sept. 24 Dover 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race begins at 1:10 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by TNT.

-credit: jgr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , J.J. Yeley , Brian Vickers , Elliott Sadler , Denny Hamlin , Dave Blaney
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing