Loudon: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart endures long day at New Hampshire Incident with Wallace, pit miscue lead to 22nd place finish LOUDON, N.H., (July 20, 2003) - After a successful test at New Hampshire International Speedway June 30-July 1, Tony Stewart and the ...

Stewart endures long day at New Hampshire
Incident with Wallace, pit miscue lead to 22nd place finish

LOUDON, N.H., (July 20, 2003) - After a successful test at New Hampshire International Speedway June 30-July 1, Tony Stewart and the #20 Home Depot Racing Team were expecting a solid run in Sunday's New England 300 at the 1.058-mile oval. But a lap 164 incident with Rusty Wallace and a pit miscue on lap 197 conspired against Stewart and Co., relegating them to a 22nd place finish.

Stewart started the 300-lap affair from the eighth spot, as car owner points set the grid after rain washed out Friday's qualifying session. Stewart hung in the top-10 through the race's first 100 laps, despite his Home Depot Chevrolet being too tight through the middle of the track's corners.

A savvy two-tire pit stop on lap 100 while under caution brought Stewart to second, just behind the Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon. The tight handling condition persisted, but Stewart hung tough to stay in the top-five until the caution flag waved again 46 laps later.

There, crew chief Greg Zipadelli made the decision to change four tires while raising the track bar one round. Making a four-tire stop as opposed to two would allow Stewart to get ahead of his other competitors who would have to make a four-tire stop later in the race. The strategy was sound, but it dropped Stewart to 20th as the vast majority of teams went the standard, two-tire route.

Stewart was slowly working his way to the front when he came upon the #2 Dodge of Rusty Wallace. While racing Wallace for 17th on lap 164, Wallace pinched Stewart high into the outside wall as the two came off turn four. Simultaneously, the right fender of the #20 machine slapped the retaining wall, while the left fender crumpled against Wallace's rear quarterpanel. When the two separated, Wallace's rear bumper flew off onto the front straightaway, while Stewart's front tires smoked against his caved-in sheet metal.

Wallace's debris brought out another caution, with both he and Stewart heading to pit road for repairs. When work was complete, Stewart returned to the track in 33rd position.

After running a handful of laps, Stewart radioed that his car was tighter than ever before, a result of the car's toe-in being drastically out of line following the run-in with Wallace.

When another caution presented itself on lap 195, the #20 team brought Stewart to pit road for a two-tire stop, where they also raised the track bar another round. But with Stewart so far down in the running order, the pit area in front of and behind Stewart's pit box were already occupied by the cars of Bobby Labonte and Robby Gordon, respectively. When Stewart arrived at his stall, he had to angle his car awkwardly into the box. And when service was complete, he had to cut the wheel hard right to get out of his box. But that meant heading into Labonte's pit stall, where his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate had just finished a two-tire stop as well. With Stewart right on Labonte's bumper, Labonte's rear tire changer couldn't get back behind pit wall. The hose connected to his air wrench became trapped under Stewart's car, delaying Stewart's exit and forcing NASCAR to assess a pit road penalty to the #20 team.

Stewart returned to the pits on the following lap to serve the penalty, and the team took advantage of the extra time on pit road by changing left side rubber and topping the #20 machine with all the fuel it could handle. When racing resumed on lap 202, Stewart was 32nd.

Despite being so far back, the race was shaping up to be a battle of gas mileage. Stewart set about picking off those ahead of him while Zipadelli calculated how far they could go on fuel. When what would be the race's final caution waved on lap 232, Stewart headed to pit road for a fuel-only stop.

When the race restarted on lap 239, Stewart was in 29th thanks to the quick gas-and-go. Zipadelli figured that positions 1-19 were gambling hard on their fuel mileage, while he was confident that The Home Depot Chevrolet could go the distance. Stewart did all he could in the waning laps to gain as many positions as possible, despite a car that was less than stellar. "I'm driving like a dump truck," said Stewart. "The toe is all knocked out from the '2' putting us in the fence."

Stewart had climbed to 25th with 50 laps to go, and while not nearly as many cars ran out of fuel as Zipadelli had hoped, Stewart was still able to earn a 22nd place finish when the checkered flag mercifully waved.

"Long day," said a disappointed Stewart, who dropped one spot in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings to ninth, 17 points behind eighth-place Kurt Busch and 622 points behind series leader Matt Kenseth.

Jimmie Johnson won the New England 300 for his fifth career Winston Cup victory and his second of 2003. Kevin Harvick finished second, with Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Robby Gordon rounding out the top-five.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the July 27 Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. Live coverage by TNT begins at 1 p.m. EDT.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing