Sour Engine Spoils Stewart's Strong Run in Sonoma Dropped Cylinder Drops Home Depot Driver from Top-Three to 28th For Tony Stewart and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team, Sunday's Dodge/SaveMart 350k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Infineon ...
Sour Engine Spoils Stewart's Strong Run in Sonoma
Dropped Cylinder Drops Home Depot Driver from Top-Three to 28th
For Tony Stewart and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team, Sunday's Dodge/SaveMart 350k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., was a typical road course outing with an atypical finish.
Winners of three straight road course races, including last year's jaunt at Infineon, Stewart and Co. were again at the front and in contention for the win. But engine woes less than 20 laps short of the 110-lap distance dropped Stewart out of the top-three and to a distant 28th place finish when the checkered flag waved.
"We know we broke a lifter, but we don't know exactly how it happened," said Stewart. "We just know it lost a cylinder."
"A few laps before it let go it started slowing down," added crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "We don't have very many motor problems. Mark Cronquist (head engine builder) and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing really do a good job there. That's really been one of our strong suits. But it's our second one this year. We'll just go back and look at it to see why it broke and fix it for the second half of the season. It might've just been a part that was bad and it was our day."
Prior to the engine problems, it appeared that it was the No. 20 team's day to win, or at least log another strong road course finish.
Stewart started 12th but used the twists and turns of Infineon's 1.99-mile layout to his advantage, cracking the top-five with a decisive pass of road course ace Boris Said on lap seven.
Even with a Home Depot Chevrolet that had trouble gripping the pavement while accelerating off the corners, Stewart used patience and throttle control to take the lead on lap 30 just before making his first pit stop on lap 31.
It was there where Stewart had his first taste of disappointment.
NASCAR cited the two-time and reigning series champion with a pit road speeding infraction. Too fast on entry was the call from the tower, with Stewart forced to serve a drive-through penalty on the following lap. From the lead to 12th Stewart went.
"I think I was in second gear versus first gear," said Stewart, who logged his pit road speed on the pace lap while in first gear. "The gears are so close together that it was a five mph difference. It was a mistake on my part being in second gear, because I knew I was below what my tach reading was supposed to be. But being in second gear was too fast, obviously. Everywhere else we go we're always in second gear on pit lane. Coming in on that first stop I just didn't get down to first gear, I guess. The second time I came through I was down to first gear and they said the speed was fine."
Undeterred, Stewart methodically picked his way back toward the front. He was running third behind leader Terry Labonte and eventual race winner Jeff Gordon when the engine soured.
"Today was just a freak deal," said Stewart. "There's nothing you can say but bad luck to that. We were running well even with a beat up race car. We were almost matching Jeff (Gordon) lap for lap. Jeff was the class of the field today and it was exactly what I said it was going to be. It was going to be between him and me. But as good as he was today, you weren't going to catch him with a beat up race car."
Stewart's Home Depot Chevrolet looked worse for wear even before it was befallen by engine trouble.
"Normally, we're up front and we don't have that problem on a road course," said Stewart. "But you look at some of the good cars that were beat up - I got a chance to see all of them as they were passing me at the end - and it seemed like it was an awful rough day to me. The ones that I was a little disappointed in were some of the ones I have the most respect for on a road course. You got some guys who should be the best quality guys out here and they're the ones blocking and chopping people's noses off and this and that. It's disappointing we've got to have a race like that."
While the race and the result were disappointing, the consequences weren't all that bad.
Stewart dropped just one spot in the championship point standings to seventh, 422 markers arrears series leader Jimmie Johnson.
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J. J. Yeley - finished 12th and 33rd, respectively. Hamlin and Yeley occupy the 11th and 27th positions, respectively. Hamlin dropped two spots while Yeley maintained his position.
Gordon's win was the 74th of his career and his first this season. Ryan Newman finished second, while Labonte, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch secured the rest of the top-five. Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Elliott Sadler, Boris Said and Johnson comprised the rest of the top-10.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the July 1 Pepsi 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The race begins at 7:55 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX.