RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY! Stewart Stuck with Top-Five at Pocono After Rain Cuts Race Short Sunday's Pocono 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway turned out to be more wet than wild for Tony Stewart, but the driver of the No. 20...
RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY!
Stewart Stuck with Top-Five at Pocono After Rain Cuts Race Short
Sunday's Pocono 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway turned out to be more wet than wild for Tony Stewart, but the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) raced his way to a fifth-place finish on the quirky, 2.5-mile triangle. The Pocono 500 was called after 106 laps when a final rain shower soaked the speedway.
The top-five effort was the third of the season for Stewart, and it boosted him a spot in the championship standings to sixth, 95 points behind fifth-place Jeff Burton.
After multiple showers soaked Pocono and caused the start to be delayed by more than two-and-a-half hours, Stewart wasted little time working his way up the running order. He gained two spots on the opening lap after starting sixth, and by lap five was third behind JGR teammate Denny Hamlin.
By the 10th lap, Stewart was firmly entrenched in second-place behind Hamlin, and he would stay there until The Home Depot team made its first pit stop on lap 25. As the rest of the field cycled through its stops, Stewart emerged as the leader on lap 29. "That's five (points) for the good guys," quipped spotter Mark Robertson.
Hamlin got back around Stewart on lap 33 and set sail with the No. 20 machine in tow. Hamlin led by almost a half-second when a debris caution came out on lap 49.
Seven laps after the field restarted, another piece of debris on the track brought about the key moment of the rain-shortened race.
Hamlin, Stewart and most of the other front-runners hit pit road on lap 63 during the caution, but not Jeff Gordon.
"I wish I had stayed out," said Stewart after NASCAR officials called the race shortly before 8 p.m. "We talked about staying out on that caution, but everybody else in front of us came and I didn't want to make a bad mistake and stay out and have it hurt us. We played it safe and came in with everybody else."
After Gordon took the lead, it put him and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Casey Mears on a different schedule than the rest of the leaders. Stewart and those who pitted were still in the top-15. Gordon and Mears pitted on lap 82, and with the stop, Stewart was in second-place behind Ryan Newman.
The next pit stop for Stewart came on lap 91, where crew chief Greg Zipadelli directed a four-tire change along with a fill-up of fuel and a track bar adjustment.
Once all the pit stops had cycled through on lap 98, Gordon was the leader thanks to his team's call to pit early. Less than eight laps later, the rains came, soaking the Tunnel Turn and forcing NASCAR to call the race official at 106 laps, 94 laps short of its scheduled 200-lap distance.
Stewart wanted one more pit stop and a couple more positions before the race ended.
"I know what I want to do," said Stewart as the jet dryers worked in vain to dry Pocono's track surface. "I want to race. I think I can get one more spot for sure. We're just a tick off the 12 (Newman) and the 1 (Martin Truex Jr.) and the 11 (Hamlin) that's behind us. We want a shot at this thing. We're good. We're just a tick off. This place is one where if you pick up anything, you pick up a bunch. It's such a big momentum track that you gain a ton of time if you can make a change that works for you. I don't feel like we're far off, we just need a little bit of help."
He didn't get it. Mother Nature soaked the backstretch and NASCAR officials had seen enough.
"This is the weirdest doggone weather I've ever seen," Stewart said. "We could be standing here in the sun and it would be pouring on the other side of the race track. That just shows how big this race track really is."
Despite not getting the chance to improve his position, Stewart was happy with the finish.
"We still ended up with a top-five and that's the best we've run here in a long, long time," he said. "We actually got to see our teammate (Hamlin, who swept both Pocono races last year) during the race today instead of watching him on the screen going down the frontstretch. I'm pretty happy with the day, but I would have liked to have gotten one more pit stop in to see what we could have gotten with it. But I'm happy with the top five."
Stewart's JGR teammates -- Hamlin and J.J. Yeley -- finished sixth and 17th, respectively, in the Pocono 500. Hamlin picked up one spot to climb to third in points, while Yeley gained one spot to rise to 18th.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the June 17 Citizens Bank 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by TNT.