RAIN THWARTS STEWART'S WINNING EFFORT AT NEW HAMPSHIRE Home Depot Driver Leads Race-High 132 Laps, but Winds up an Unlucky 13th A last-lap slingshot pass that dropped him from first to third in the season-opening Daytona 500. A cut tire in the...
RAIN THWARTS STEWART'S WINNING EFFORT AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
Home Depot Driver Leads Race-High 132 Laps, but Winds up an Unlucky 13th
A last-lap slingshot pass that dropped him from first to third in the season-opening Daytona 500. A cut tire in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway that nullified a five-and-a-half second lead and replaced it with an 18th-place finish. A deluge of rain Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway that thwarted yet another shot at victory. Is a plague of locusts next for Tony Stewart and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team?
They must feel like it, for after leading twice for a race-high 132 laps in Sunday's rain-shortened Lenox Industrial Tools 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire, Stewart saw yet another victory slip away. Instead of celebrating his 33rd career Sprint Cup win, his third at New Hampshire and his first in 30 races, Stewart had to come to terms with a disappointing 13th-place finish.
"I don't know how to put it into words right now," said Stewart from the cockpit of his rain-soaked Home Depot Toyota. "Everybody's worked hard. It's not for a lack of effort by anybody on this Home Depot Racing Team by any means. It's just one of those years where everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. We've had years where we couldn't do anything wrong, too. It's part of racing. The good thing is no matter what the outcome is today, we get to do it again in six more days so we just do what we can."
Stewart had the 43-car field covered. He started 28th, cracked the top-15 on lap 45 and thanks to a gutsy fuel-only pit stop called by crew chief Greg Zipadelli while under caution on lap 87, vaulted to fourth when the race restarted on lap 90.
Stewart made the most of the newfound track position. He reeled in Brian Vickers for third on lap 110, and then passed Kevin Harvick for second on lap 135.
Another quick stop in the pits on lap 140 -- this time for four tires and fuel -- propelled Stewart into the lead, where he paced the field for the next 65 laps. Pit stops jumbled the running order while the race was under caution during laps 206-207, but once all the pit stops cycled through, Stewart was back on top by lap 208, and held the perch until he had to pit a final time for fuel and right-side tires on lap 274.
But when rain cut the race 17 laps short of its scheduled 301-lap distance, Stewart was caught outside the top-10 as other teams gambled that they'd either have enough fuel to go the distance or that rain would end the race prematurely. All were ahead of Stewart when rain washed over the 1.058-mile oval.
"That's part of racing and that's the gamble you take sometimes," Stewart said. "The result today wasn't indicative of how our car was and how hard our team worked. Everybody did a great job. That's racing man. That's the way it happens sometimes."
For Stewart, it feels like it's been happening a little too often. Even with the near wins detailed above, other strong finishes, such as potential second-place efforts and other top-fives and top-10s, have fallen by the wayside in a season riddled with "what-ifs."
"It's just been the oddest year I've ever seen for this race team," said Stewart, who has experienced two Sprint Cup championships and 32 wins with the No. 20 team since his rookie year in 1999. "It's disappointing for all of us on the Home Depot team. I guarantee you there's a crew chief that they're hiding sharp objects from right now. He (Zipadelli) gave me the best car I've had since Charlotte. It's just frustrating. There's not anybody that's going to tell you any different than that. There's nothing you can do. If we knew what to do and if there was something we could do about it, we'd change it. We'll just keep plugging away each week and we'll get it turned around.
"None of the results this year are due to lack of effort. I got some of the best guys in the garage area and I've had them for 10 years, and this is the worst string of bad luck we've ever seen. There's nothing we can do about it. There's a percentage of this industry that's called luck and you can't change it. All you can do is do like we've done today and work hard and crawl away from 28th and get to the lead. You've got to have some luck on your side, and we just haven't had any of it this year."