One More Spot to Go for Stewart Seventh-Place Pocono Finish Propels Home Depot Driver to Second in Points LONG POND, Pa., (July 24, 2005) - With three wins in the last four races, Tony Stewart had momentum on his side going into Sunday's ...
One More Spot to Go for Stewart Seventh-Place Pocono Finish Propels Home Depot Driver to Second in Points
LONG POND, Pa., (July 24, 2005) - With three wins in the last four races, Tony Stewart had momentum on his side going into Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway, and he left the 2.5-mile triangle with a solid seventh-place finish, a one-spot jump in the point standings and a head of steam for the upcoming Allstate 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Stewart's finish, combined with Greg Biffle's 17th-place run, allowed the 2002 series champion to sail past Biffle and into second in points, 66 behind series leader Jimmie Johnson with just six races left before the Chase for the Championship begins. Stewart is 21 points ahead of third-place Biffle, who led Stewart by eight coming into Pocono.
It looked like Stewart, who started sixth in his #20 Home Depot Chevrolet, might have an opportunity to use the ladder he was given prior to the race by Home Depot associates to scale Pocono's towering frontstretch catchfence upon a victory. But a set of tires on the next-to-last pit stop cost him valuable track position and any shot of winning.
Pitting with the rest of the lead-lap cars on lap 166 of the 200-lap race, Stewart took four tires. The strategy appeared to work as he swept past Casey Mears on the restart for seventh-place. But as the run went on, Stewart's lap times started to slow, and with 25 laps remaining, he'd fallen to 12th.
The caution flag waved at that point for debris, and Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli decided to come in and change four tires. "It's just on top of the track and sliding all around everywhere," Stewart said from the cockpit.
The decision to pit when hardly anyone else ahead of Stewart came to pit road to made the difference between a mediocre run and a good points day.
"It may have been a blessing in disguise," said Stewart on the decision to pit. "It allowed us to come back in and get tires on it and we made up a lot of spots."
He rejoined the race in 17th, and two laps after the green flag waved again, Stewart yelled, "Yee haw!" over the radio. He'd gone from 17th on the restart to 14th with 20 laps remaining, and three laps later he pulled off a three-wide pass off turn three to climb to 11th.
He cracked the top-10 a lap later, and passed Brian Vickers for ninth off turn two when the caution waved yet again with 11 laps remaining for Mike Wallace's crash at the exit of turn one. That meant the restart would be single-file, lead-lap cars only, giving Stewart a chance to earn some more spots.
When the race restarted with eight laps remaining, Stewart took off in ninth and returned to the start/finish line seventh after Biffle and Michael Waltrip tangled in turn one. Another spin by Waltrip with two laps remaining set up a green-white-checkered finish.
Stewart lost a spot on the final restart to Ryan Newman, and was about to be passed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte when the caution flag waved for the final time when Kasey Kahne slammed the wall in turn one and again in turn two. That left Stewart seventh at the finish.
"I was just too tight at the end to do anything more than I was doing," said Stewart. "I lost a spot to Ryan there at the end and would've lost another to my teammate if I hadn't run him up the hill. I wasn't trying to use him up, but I couldn't afford to give up anymore than I had already."
"We gained on Jimmie (Johnson), and in the big picture, that's what makes it a good day," added Stewart. "It gives us some momentum going into Indy. We'll enjoy the week off."
Kurt Busch won the Pennsylvania 500, leading 131 of the 203 laps for his second triumph of 2005. Rusty Wallace was second, followed by Mark Martin, Carl Edwards and Newman. Kevin Harvick was sixth, followed by Stewart, Labonte, Mike Bliss and Ricky Rudd.
The Nextel Cup Series takes a rare weekend off before heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Aug. 7 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. The race starts at 2:40 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC.