STEWART SIXTH IN SONOMA Home Depot Driver Nabs 11th Top-10 Road Course Finish Tony Stewart had the fastest car on the race track in Sunday's Toyota/SaveMart 350k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., but it also...
STEWART SIXTH IN SONOMA
Home Depot Driver Nabs 11th Top-10 Road Course Finish
Tony Stewart had the fastest car on the race track in Sunday's Toyota/SaveMart 350k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., but it also meant it was one of the thirstiest.
In yet another Nextel Cup race dictated by fuel mileage, Stewart had to pit for fuel with 35 laps to go while a handful of his competitors were able to stretch their mileage to out-fuel Stewart's No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet when the checkered flag dropped on the 110-lap contest. Stewart wound up sixth, despite leading twice for six laps and opening up a four-second advantage before that final pit stop.
"We did exactly what we planned because our fuel mileage was what it was," said crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "That's what dictated our race. Sometimes you catch the cautions and sometimes you don't, and today the last caution fell about six laps too soon. If it fell a little bit later, it wouldn't have been a big deal. We would've been in really good shape. But what it did was give all of the slow cars an opportunity to come in and put tires on and save fuel. And there's no way in the word we could've saved that much (fuel), unless there was another caution. It's just disappointing."
The race's final caution came out on lap 68, with the race restarting on lap 70, leaving Stewart and Co. six laps short of their scheduled fuel window for a pit stop.
Other teams were able to gamble, and as Stewart pushed his Home Depot Chevrolet hard to open up a margin that would buy him some extra time on pit road, those cars that pitted conserved fuel and tires for a long-distance run to the finish.
It was a bitter pill for Stewart to swallow, who has seen recent races at Pocono (Pa.) and Charlotte (N.C.) dictated by a fuel mileage strategy he's been unable to meet.
"It's tough to be so good but not have the finish to show for it," said Stewart, who won at Sonoma in 2001 and 2005.
Stewart's disappointment was tempered by the fact that Sonoma marked his fifth top-10 finish in the last six races and his 11th this season. It was also Stewart's 11th top-10 finish in his 17 career road course starts, as the Nextel Cup Series visits Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, the other road course venue on the series' 36-race schedule.
The strong finish gained Stewart one spot in the championship point standings, as the two-time Nextel Cup champion is now sixth in points, 480 behind series leader Jeff Gordon.
Stewart's JGR teammates -- Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley -- finished 10th and 21st, respectively, in the Toyota/SaveMart 350k. Hamlin maintained his second-place point standing, where he's 271 markers behind Gordon. Yeley, meanwhile, held steady at 18th in points.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the July 1 Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon. The race starts at 2:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 1 p.m.