Â STEWART & CO. RALLY TO EIGHTH AT RICHMOND Home Depot Team Scores Sixth Top-10 of Season A pit stop on lap 121 of Sunday's rain-delayed Jim Stewart 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway was the deciding ...
STEWART & CO. RALLY TO EIGHTH AT RICHMOND
Home Depot Team Scores Sixth Top-10 of Season
A pit stop on lap 121 of Sunday's rain-delayed Jim Stewart 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway was the deciding moment for Tony Stewart and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team. Instead of struggling to land a top-20, they finished eighth to log their sixth top-10 of the season.
Plagued with a loose race car that would not turn through the center of the corners, crew chief Greg Zipadelli made a drastic chassis adjustment that allowed Stewart to eventually climb into the top-five with less than 100 laps remaining in the 400-lap race.
Zipadelli disconnected the rear sway bar and raised the track bar two-and-a-half rounds, all in an effort to improve the No. 20 car's traction off the corners and ability to turn through the corners.
The gamble dropped Stewart to 39th in the 43-car field, but it proved to be a wise move. With newfound handling on his Home Depot Chevrolet, Stewart sliced through the field. He was 21st by lap 150, where Zipadelli told him over the radio that he was running lap times equal to those of the leaders.
For those who didn't have a stopwatch, Stewart's ascension up the leader board was visibly evident. He was 14th by lap 200 and 12th after a green flag pit stop on lap 215. And as those green flag pit stops cycled through, Zipadelli keenly kept Stewart out on the racetrack to lead a lap, which collected five valuable bonus points toward their season-long championship point tally.
Stewart passed Carl Edwards for 11th on lap 217 and then displaced Ricky Rudd on lap 219 to crack the top-10 for the first time all day.
Once in the top-10, Stewart stayed there. He rose to as high as fourth with a pass of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, on lap 293, and held the position until a caution for debris sent everyone to pit road for fresh tires and fuel.
Stewart emerged in seventh, and then had to fight with the lapped car of Reed Sorenson before giving chase to sixth-place Martin Truex Jr., in the moments after the lap 323 restart.
Mired in seventh, the team took the opportunity to pit for fresh tires when the caution flag waved again for debris on lap 338. This time Stewart came out in 11th, with a slew of lapped traffic between him and the leader.
Despite the loss of track position, Stewart dug deep, rallying the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet to seventh before getting caught up in a multi-car accident on lap 373. There, Ward Burton spun on the frontstretch while trying to split the middle in a three-wide pass off turn four. As Burton caromed off the outside wall, Stewart had nowhere to go, and the right front corner of the No. 20 machine nicked Burton's stalled machine.
Stewart's fender was ripped apart, and the front-end geometry was slightly out of line. But with less than 30 laps remaining on the .75-mile oval, pitting for service wasn't an option. Stewart was seventh, and a top-10 finish was still salvageable.
When the race restarted for the final time on lap 381, Stewart bore down, but so did Kevin Harvick, who muscled past Stewart with three laps to go. Even with a banged-up race car, Stewart held off another late-race charge from Clint Bowyer to secure eighth when the checkered flag dropped.
"We really weren't that good at the start, but Zippy (crew chief, Greg Zipadelli) made some big changes to the car and we got it right just before the halfway point," Stewart said. "We were able to get into the top-five, but we just couldn't stay there. A little disappointing."
"Again, we had a top-five car and finished eighth with it," added Zipadelli. "It seems like that's our M.O. this year. But at the beginning of the race, we had a top-20 car, if we were lucky. We made some major changes and gave up a lot of track position and we got some long, green flag runs when we needed it to get our track position back. But when it came down to it, we didn't do that well in the pits, and that kind of got us behind. Then we got in a wreck. Just one of them days. We're a little frustrated. It seems like our whole season has been that way."
Even with the frustration, the No. 20 team remains solidly in the top-10 in points. Stewart dropped only one position in the championship standings, as he is now seventh, just four points behind sixth-place Kyle Busch, but a more daunting 466 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon.