LONG POND, Pa., (July 27, 2003) - Tony Stewart was on track to score the greatest comeback in Pocono Raceway history and join Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, Bobby Allison and the late Tim Richmond as the only drivers to sweep two NASCAR Winston Cup...
LONG POND, Pa., (July 27, 2003) - Tony Stewart was on track to score the greatest comeback in Pocono Raceway history and join Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, Bobby Allison and the late Tim Richmond as the only drivers to sweep two NASCAR Winston Cup Series races in one season at the venerable 2.5-mile triangle.
Stewart, who scored his 16th career win at Pocono in June, started the Pennsylvania 500 mired in 33rd. But with the fastest car in the 43-car field and savvy, two-tire pit strategy, Stewart was able to crack the top-10 by lap 50, and his quick ascension to the front of the filed was merely a precursor for things to come.
Just before the halfway point of the 200-lap race, Stewart took the lead from Jeff Burton with a powerful move through turn one. The #20 Home Depot Chevrolet led the next 11 laps before relinquishing the lead to Kurt Busch during a series of scheduled, green flag pit stops. When all the stops cycled through, Stewart was again at the point, leading laps 117-119 before giving way to a strong Michael Waltrip, and a few moments later, his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While solidly in the top-three, Stewart's eyes were still set on victory, which would have broken the record for worst starting position by a winner, set by Terry Labonte in 1995 when he won the Teamwork 500 after starting 27th. But that idea proved premature when on lap 154 while running second to Earnhardt, Stewart's #20 machine let out a plume of smoke down the short chute going into turn three. The tell-tale blue smoke signaled catastrophic engine failure, and Stewart's day was over.
The resulting 37th place finish was the team's fifth DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season, dropping them out of the top-10 and into 14th in the championship point standings. Stewart is now 694 points arrears series leader Matt Kenseth.
"The thing ran great all day," said crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "It looks like it broke a rod or spun a bearing - something that doesn't give much warning. The temperatures were good all day. The engine department has been working real hard, the chassis department has been strong - we just don't have a lot to show for it. We've picked up and gone on quite a few times as a team, so we'll head to Indy. It's all we can do. We have good cars, a great engine for there, and all this does is fire us up."
Winning the Pennsylvania 500 from the pole was sophomore driver Ryan Newman. It was Newman's fourth victory of the season and the fifth of his career, allowing him to become the winningest driver in 2003. Coming home second was Busch, while Earnhardt, Waltrip and Terry Labonte rounded out the top-five.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Aug. 3 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Live coverage by NBC begins at 2:30 p.m. EDT.