Stewart third at New Hampshire, jumps to fourth in points. LOUDON, N.H., (Sept. 15, 2002) - Tony Stewart scored a strong third-place finish in the rain-shortened New Hampshire 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, bringing The Home Depot...
Stewart third at New Hampshire, jumps to fourth in points.
LOUDON, N.H., (Sept. 15, 2002) - Tony Stewart scored a strong third-place finish in the rain-shortened New Hampshire 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, bringing The Home Depot Pontiac driver to fourth in the championship point standings, a scant 59 points behind new series leader Mark Martin.
"This was an awesome day," said Stewart, whose #20 machine was turning the fastest lap times before rain ended the race on lap 207, 93 laps short of its scheduled 300-lap distance. "The Home Depot Pontiac was good all day and we never did make any real adjustments to the car, just air pressure adjustments. That we were able to do that shows how good of a car we had from the get-go, and we just kept working our way up."
"This was one of those bittersweet situations," added crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "We liked seeing it rain when it did as it worked well for us with the points, but I think we had a car good enough to win. But Mother Nature didn't want to cooperate today. Big picture, though, we did what we had to do. We outran the rest of them big time, all day long, and that's what we need to do the next nine weeks."
With just nine races remaining on the marathon-like NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule, the title chase is wide open. With 27 races down, the top-10 are separated by 227 points, while the top-five are separated by a mere 67 points.
Sterling Marlin, who had held the point lead since the second race of the season at Rockingham (N.C.), dropped to second in points after finishing a disappointing 21st. And while Martin's result was only slightly better - 16th - it was enough to usurp Marlin's long-held point lead.
Outside of Stewart, the only other top-five driver in points to garner a top-10 race finish was Jimmie Johnson. His ninth-place effort held him steady at third in the standings, while allowing him to close to within 40 points of Martin. Stewart's new fourth-place standing dropped Jeff Gordon to fifth in the championship chase, 67 markers behind Martin.
"We just went out and did what we had to do," said Stewart, who started the race 10th. "The track was really narrow and it was hard to pass, but we were able to get by, and not only get by but get up to the two leaders there at the end. If this thing would've gone 300 laps, I think the outcome would've been different."
The only hiccup of the day came after the team's first pit stop while under caution on lap 74. Stewart entered the pits fifth, but a miscue in getting the left front wheel onto The Home Depot Pontiac dropped Stewart to 11th in the running order. It proved of little matter however, as Stewart picked his way into the top-five by lap 128.
The team's second and ultimately last pit stop of the day came under green on lap 160. Quick pit work allowed Stewart to hold onto fifth, and with rain threatening, he ran down Bobby Labonte and Johnny Benson before the skies finally unloaded.
Rookie Ryan Newman won the New Hampshire 300 from the pole, becoming the 16th different race winner of the season and the third driver to score his first career victory in 2002, joining Kurt Busch and fellow rookie Johnson. Busch followed Newman to the line in second, while Stewart, Benson and Labonte rounded out the top-five.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Sept. 22 MBNA All-American Heroes 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Live coverage by TNT begins at 1 p.m. EDT.