Martinsville: Tony Stewart race report

Long Day at the Short Track for Stewart & Co. Home Depot Driver Musters 14th Place Finish at Martinsville MARTINSVILLE, Va., (April 18, 2004) - Tony Stewart started Sunday's Advance Auto Parts 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at ...

Long Day at the Short Track for Stewart & Co.
Home Depot Driver Musters 14th Place Finish at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va., (April 18, 2004) - Tony Stewart started Sunday's Advance Auto Parts 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway from 30th in the 43-car field and picked up 16 spots to finish a respectable 14th.

It was a long and frustrating day for members of The Home Depot Racing Team as they spent all 500 laps around the .526-mile oval trying to get a handle on the #20 chassis.

Of the eight pit stops performed by the Greg Zipadelli-led crew, none were executed without some type of adjustment. The first modification came during a yellow flag pit stop courtesy of a spinning Robby Gordon. The adjustment - a slight track bar and air pressure tweak on lap 28 - seemed to be the answer in the early going.

Stewart restarted in 35th on lap 31 and quickly moved the orange and black Chevrolet Monte Carlo into contention for a top-five finish.

"If the race goes long this thing will be good," radioed Stewart to Zipadelli. "It doesn't turn, but it goes forward like a champ."

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon battled back-and-forth for the lead, Stewart was busy cashing in on the dividends produced by the adjustments made to his car. Stewart was surging through the field, and by lap 85 he was running in the top-20.

It was obvious Stewart liked what he had to work with. There was no radio conversation for several laps as his sights were set on the front. The intensity showed on the race track. By lap 100 he was running 10th, making up 7.5 seconds on the leader since the lap 31 restart.

Stewart passed a fading Earnhardt on lap 105 to grab the ninth spot. On lap 120 with the third caution flag of the day waving, Stewart headed to the pits for his second stop of the day. This time "forward bite" was the issue, with the remedy being a minor air pressure adjustment. Stewart emerged from the stop in fourth-place - his best track position of the day - with the cars of Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon just ahead.

His time at the front was short-lived though, as the remedies found during the first two pit stops seemed to vanish.

During the next 144 circuits Stewart fell back to as far as 16th. On lap 290, after picking up two positions, the race was red flagged due to a hole in the racing surface at the entrance of turn three. Subsequent repairs resulted in more than an hour delay, allowing Stewart to park the car and stretch his legs.

When racing resumed, the #20 machine resorted back to its difficult demeanor. For the remainder of the race Stewart floated between 17th and 13th, but never re-established the car as a threat to the front. The perfect balance between track bar and air pressure adjustments could not be found.

The 14th place finish dropped Stewart from fourth to sixth in the Nextel Cup championship point standings, as he is now 100 points behind Earnhardt, the new series leader.

Winning the Advance Auto Parts 500 was Rusty Wallace, who ended a 105-race winless streak as his last victory came on April 29, 2001 at California Speedway in Fontana. Finishing second was Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte, while Earnhardt, Johnson and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the April 25 Aaron's 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Live coverage by FOX begins at 1:30 p.m. EDT.

-jgr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Robby Gordon , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray