Phoenix: Tony Stewart race report

Rise of the Phoenix Tony Stewart Drives from 43rd to Second at Phoenix Tony Stewart started last in Saturday night's Subway Fresh 500k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event at Phoenix International Raceway but picked up 41 positions to finish a strong...

Rise of the Phoenix
Tony Stewart Drives from 43rd to Second at Phoenix

Tony Stewart started last in Saturday night's Subway Fresh 500k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event at Phoenix International Raceway but picked up 41 positions to finish a strong second to race winner Kevin Harvick.

Stewart qualified his #20 Home Depot Chevrolet third, but due to a miscommunication amongst the team, the tires with which Stewart posted that third-place qualifying time were taken to Goodyear and destroyed. Those tires needed to be on the car when Stewart began Saturday night's 312-lap affair, as NASCAR mandates that the top-10 qualifiers start the race on the tires with which they qualified. Since those tires weren't available to Stewart, NASCAR had no choice but to send Stewart to last-place in the 43-car field.

Why were the tires destroyed? Due to the new-for-2006 tire leasing policy implemented by NASCAR and Goodyear, used tires from practice must be turned back into Goodyear. Those tires are then destroyed and later recycled so that teams can't stockpile used tires for future testing purposes. Stewart's qualifying tires were confused for a set of Stewart's practice tires, hence the reason his qualifying tires were unavailable and the subsequent penalty by NASCAR.

"It was a fair judgment because we didn't start on the stuff that we qualified," said Stewart. "So we just didn't think about it much. We had to start 43rd and just be patient."

The tire setback proved minor to Stewart, who took only 75 laps to crack the top-10 despite driving a Home Depot Chevrolet that was tight in the middle of the corners and loose on exit.

Constant chassis tinkering by crew chief Greg Zipadelli made Stewart's already potent ride downright stout. By lap 182 Stewart was fifth with his eyes set on the lead. Savvy driving and quick pit work earned him the point on lap 218 with a decisive pass of rookie Clint Bowyer.

Stewart paced the field for six laps, continuing his streak of leading a lap in every race this year - a feat no other driver has accomplished.

But there were drivers who were faster than Stewart, most notably the Roush Racing duo of Greg Biffle and Mark Martin. But a pit miscue took Martin out of the running, leaving Biffle as the top dog for laps 225 to 302.

As the race ticked toward its conclusion, fuel became a factor for just about every participant. The last round of pit stops had come on lap 224, leaving teams with empty tanks at the drop of the checkered flag 88 laps later.

Stewart was good to go to the finish, but Biffle and Martin were not. Both ran out of fuel on the penultimate lap.

Stewart, unaware that a lack of fuel would end Biffle's bid for victory, raced Biffle hard for the lead.

"I was trying to keep the heat on Greg (Biffle) so he couldn't conserve fuel," said Stewart, "but we just got so loose we couldn't do anything at the end."

Out of the shadows came Harvick, who passed Stewart for second on lap 297 before catching Biffle for the lead on lap 303.

As Harvick motored to his sixth career Nextel Cup victory, Stewart fought off the charges of Martin and Matt Kenseth to log his fifth top-five finish this season.

"In the last 30 laps, the right rear (tire) was gone," said Stewart. "I asked for a little bit more of an adjustment (during the last pit stop) and I finally got us over the top so it was probably my fault there. But I'm just really happy with this Home Depot team. We did what got us to a championship last year. We worked our way from the 43rd spot and finished second, so I'm pretty happy right now."

Kenseth finished third while Carl Edwards and Bowyer secured the rest of the top-five. Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, former JGR driver Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon comprised the rest of the top-10.

Stewart's second-place effort maintained his fifth-place point standing. He now sits 77 markers arrears new series leader Kenseth. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - J.J. Yeley and Denny Hamlin - finished 28th and 34th, respectively. Hamlin dropped four spots to 18th in points while Yeley dropped two positions to 26th.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the April 30 Aaron's 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The race begins at 2:10 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX.

-jgr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , J.J. Yeley , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Mark Martin