Loudon: Tony Stewart race report

'Magic Mile' produces only black magic for Stewart. LOUDON, N.H., (July 21, 2002) - For Tony Stewart, there was nothing magical about Sunday's New England 300 at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway after he crashed out of the ...

'Magic Mile' produces only black magic for Stewart.

LOUDON, N.H., (July 21, 2002) - For Tony Stewart, there was nothing magical about Sunday's New England 300 at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway after he crashed out of the 300-lap race on just the 123rd circuit.

The resulting 39th place finish was due to a track surface that many a driver described as "junk". Excess rubber buildup in the outer groove of turns three and four combined with asphalt that began to tear up as the race wore on made driving in the New England 300 seem like winter driving in New England.

Following a restart on lap 109, Stewart had his #20 Home Depot Pontiac comfortably in third behind the cars of Jerry Nadeau and Matt Kenseth after starting the race 10th. While not a perfect a race car, Stewart's mount seemed destined for a top-three finish - an excellent complement to his third-place effort two weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway.

However, in a moment of foreshadowing, Stewart radioed to crew chief Greg Zipadelli on lap 99 about the treacherous driving conditions in turns three and four. "There's so much rubber in three and four that is feels like we're driving in a sand box!"

That "sand box" became a sand trap, as Stewart plowed through turn four on lap 123, slamming the right front corner of The Home Depot Pontiac hard into the outside retaining wall. The detritus of rubber granules and pieces of asphalt from a field of 3,400-pound race cars rumbling around the "Magic Mile" created a track surface that felt more like black ice than blacktop.

Stewart re-fired the engine and made his way down the frontstretch. The right front tire was pushed so far up into the wheel well that it was locked in position, and the entire car drove partially sideways down the track - evidence that major suspension damage had occurred.

With all that, The Home Depot Pontiac could only make it to turn one before its remaining mechanicals finally gave out. A dejected Stewart removed himself from the race car, walked across the infield grass straight toward the driver's motorcoach lot, and sequestered himself in his private motorhome. He joined Casey Atwood, John Andretti, Kyle Petty, Robby Gordon, Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler as drivers who had problems of one sort or another navigating their way through turns three and four.

Meanwhile, a battered #20 machine made its way toward the garage area on the back of a wrecker. There, crew members unloaded the car, quickly surveying the damage and mapping out a plan of attack to get the car back onto the race track.

Damage was extensive to the right front, but also to the drivetrain and rear end assembly. The engine had also been pushed to the left due to the hard impact with the wall. Crew members swarmed over the race car, each tackling a different aspect of repairs.

Zipadelli coordinated the effort, but after many laps had passed, he looked up at the race monitor inside the team's tool box and realized there were less than 100 laps remaining in the race. So many laps had already been lost that getting back onto the race track wouldn't gain them any more positions, and staying in the garage any longer wouldn't lose them any more positions either.

Zipadelli thanked his crew for their dedicated effort, but with a sigh reluctantly threw in the towel. Word was passed along to Stewart, who was standing by in his motorcoach if the car could be repaired, that the day was officially over.

"Tony got up into that junk on the race track that they call asphalt and couldn't get the car to stick anywhere," said Zipadelli. "It's like being on ice out there. It's a shame to come to a place that you used to be able to race at, but now you can't. I don't know what to do about it, but the changes they made for us coming in here this weekend didn't make it any better. We got beat by the race track today."

The 39th place finish dropped Stewart from fifth to seventh in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings. Stewart is now 227 points behind series leader Sterling Marlin.

Winning the New England 300 was Daytona 500 victor Ward Burton, while Jeff Green, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the July 28 Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Live coverage by TNT begins at 1 p.m. EDT.

-jgr/hdr-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kyle Petty , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Jerry Nadeau , Ryan Newman , Casey Atwood , Elliott Sadler