Typical Richmond run, atypical finish. HENRICO COUNTY, Va., (Sept. 7, 2002) - Three of Tony Stewart's 15 career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victories have come at Richmond International Raceway, and Saturday night's Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 at...
Typical Richmond run, atypical finish.
HENRICO COUNTY, Va., (Sept. 7, 2002) - Three of Tony Stewart's 15 career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victories have come at Richmond International Raceway, and Saturday night's Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 at the .750-mile oval had the potential to yield a fourth win until a rear end gear failure four laps from the checkered flag relegated The Home Depot pilot to a 30th place finish.
Stewart showed his strength early, coming from his 14th starting spot to second by lap 75. The race leader at the time was rookie Ryan Newman, but Stewart eventually reeled him in, passing him for the lead on lap 144. Stewart held the point for the next 34 circuits until a round of green flag pit stops jumbled the running order.
A caution on lap 208 threw a curveball to The Home Depot team, as just 29 laps had passed from the team's previous pit stop. Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli debated whether to stay out on the race track and maintain track position, or come to the pits for tires and fuel. Trouble was, the conversation took place at the same time, with Stewart and Zipadelli talking over one another on the radio. Neither could hear each other's comments, and as a result, Stewart didn't come to pit road with the rest of the lead lap cars.
But with the strength displayed by The Home Depot Pontiac, and the clear radio communication that followed, Stewart and Zipadelli agreed to pit the very next lap, giving up another chance of leading the race for ninth spot - the last car on the lead lap.
Stewart quickly returned to the front, cracking the top-five on lap 243. He battled his way past Rusty Wallace for fourth on lap 251, then eclipsed Steve Park for third on lap 263.
The team's final stop of the evening came under caution on lap 275, where four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel were augmented by a slight chassis adjustment. As Stewart left pit road, Zipadelli radioed, "Be smooth with your fuel. We'll need all we can get if we go green from here."
Zipadelli's comments would prove prophetic, as the race went green right to the finish of the 400-lap affair. And while the team was gambling with their fuel mileage, they were unable to find out if they had enough fuel to stretch it the remaining distance. Running fourth with four laps to go, Stewart lost power.
"It just started to go ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink," said Stewart. "I didn't have any gears."
The 30th place finish was a bitter pill to swallow, especially considering that point leader Sterling Marlin was the first driver to fall out of the race, crashing on just the eighth lap. Fellow title contender Jeff Gordon also faltered, as engine problems left him with a 40th place finish. But Stewart was unable to take advantage of either driver's misfortune, as his own tough luck dropped him from third to fifth in points, 118 points arrears Marlin, who now holds a slim nine-point lead over second-place Mark Martin in the championship point standings.
Emerging the victor in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 was Matt Kenseth, who scored his fourth win of the season and the fifth of his career. Following in second was Newman, while Jeff Green, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Todd Bodine completed the top-five.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Sept. 15 New Hampshire 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon. Live coverage by NBC begins at 1 p.m. EDT.