Patience proves prosperous for Stewart at Richmond. HENRICO COUNTY, Va., (May 5, 2002) - The word patience and Tony Stewart don't normally go together, but in Sunday's rain-delayed Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the...
Patience proves prosperous for Stewart at Richmond.
HENRICO COUNTY, Va., (May 5, 2002) - The word patience and Tony Stewart don't normally go together, but in Sunday's rain-delayed Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the two were joined at the hip.
Stewart outlasted the rigors of a slippery race track and the follies of some of his competitors by wheeling the #20 Home Depot Pontiac to his 14th career victory and his third at Richmond. Stewart successfully defended his win in last year's Pontiac Excitement 400 by methodically working his way from 41st in the field of 43 cars to first with just 28 laps remaining in the 400-lap affair.
Yes, Stewart did indeed qualify third, but his patience was tested even before the green flag waved Saturday night, when only 74 laps were completed before rains forced NASCAR officials to postpone the remainder of the race to Sunday at noon.
During a routine inspection of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte's #18 Pontiac following Friday's final practice session, it was discovered that a valve seat within the engine had moved. With both Labonte's #18 and Stewart's #20 using the same type of cylinder heads, an inspection of The Home Depot Pontiac's valve seats located the very same problem.
"It was a new cylinder head," explained crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "The '18'and the '20' cars both had the cylinder heads and both had the same problem. We won't know more until we get back to the shop and see what really caused it. But we could've dropped a cylinder if we hadn't caught it."
Since the problem was caught, the only alternative was to replace the engine in each car. But with NASCAR's single engine rule having been in place since the beginning of the season, an engine change after qualifying meant that regardless of where a driver qualified, that driver would be forced to start at the back of the field.
As it was, Stewart started 41st with Labonte on the outside in 42nd. Bringing up the rear in the 43rd slot was Joe Nemechek, who was subbing for the injured Johnny Benson. Needless to say, first-place was a long ways off.
"With the sealer they put down, the race track was in pretty bad shape," said Stewart from his post-win press conference. "It wasn't a very good sight to start back there. Starting the race from the back was hard. Our car wasn't terrible, but it wasn't the way we wanted it either. With the tires as hard as they were and with the amount of sealer put down, it was a one-groove race track. It got to where when you were behind somebody, there was an aero push. It was the first time I've been to Richmond where aerodynamics played a part."
Also playing a part in Stewart's race was the propensity of those in front of Stewart to find trouble. Pole-sitter and early race leader Ward Burton fell out of contention with mechanical woes, while various accidents over the course of the race took out over a dozen other drivers who had the potential to win.
Ricky Rudd ran strong, leading twice for 90 laps, but was spun into the wall on lap 310. Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte also had formidable cars, but were involved in another incident on lap 172 that effectively ended their day. Kurt Busch smacked the wall on the lap 195. The first of two multi-car pile-ups took out front-runners Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick on lap 228. While going for the lead on lap 328, a hard charging Jimmie Johnson spun himself into the wall. And finally, the incident that took out many more potential leaders came on lap 335, when Rusty Wallace, Jeff Green, Sterling Marlin, Steve Park, Terry Labonte and Jeremy Mayfield were all collected in some shape or form on the backstretch.
"Under the situations and circumstances we had today, guys were having to run over each other to try to gain spots," said Stewart. "That's where guys were making mistakes and crashing and having problems."
Those incidents, coupled with Zipadelli's constant tinkering on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac, allowed Stewart to climb to third by lap 340. At that point, only two cars separated Stewart from the lead - the #24 of Jeff Gordon and the #12 of rookie Ryan Newman.
"Our car was really good on restarts," said Stewart. "On one of the last restarts, we were able to get underneath Jeff Gordon. Even before that, with every spot I gained, the car drove a little better and a little better and a little better. We kept getting those restarts, and I knew Ryan's car was weak on restarts and I knew ours was strong. I knew that if I could get by him in the first three or four laps, that once I got in the lead it would help my car aero-wise and hurt his car at the same time. Once Ryan was behind us, it was like he could only get up so far, but then he was stuck."
With Newman stuck in second, Stewart legged out his lead in the final laps, crossing the stripe in first with a 1.484-second advantage over Newman. Jeff Burton came home third, with Mark Martin and Mayfield finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
Stewart's second win of the season bumped him back up in the championship point standings, from 10th to eighth. He now trails series point leader Sterling Marlin by 251 markers.
The Winston Cup Series takes a weekend off in observance of Mother's Day before heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the May 18 running of The Winston. Live coverage of the non-points event begins at 9 p.m. EDT on FOX.