Sears Point: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart 12th in Sonoma, climbs to 11th in points SONOMA, Calif., (June 22, 2003) - Tony Stewart battled an ill-handling race car and the consequences of other driver's actions to finish a solid 12th in the Dodge/Save Mart 350k at Infineon ...

Stewart 12th in Sonoma, climbs to 11th in points

SONOMA, Calif., (June 22, 2003) - Tony Stewart battled an ill-handling race car and the consequences of other driver's actions to finish a solid 12th in the Dodge/Save Mart 350k at Infineon Raceway.

Stewart started the 110-lap affair through the twisting 1.99-mile road course in the 10th position, but by lap 19, he issued a red flag warning via his radio. "We're in trouble," said Stewart. "We're just sliding around all over the place. I'm not getting any side bite. I'm not getting any forward bite. The only thing this car does is stop."

While the last part of Stewart's comments made brake specialist Jason Shapiro sport a wry grin, the rest of Stewart's words proved troublesome for The Home Depot Racing Team.

On lap 34 during a round of green flag pit stops, Stewart headed to pit road, where crew chief Greg Zipadelli called for two turns of wedge into the left rear corner of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet while four tires and two cans of fuel were added.

Stewart returned to the track in 12th, as a caution appeared on lap 35, effectively ending the series of green flag pit stops, with those who hadn't already pitted now able to do so under the luxury of the yellow flag.

The race restarted on lap 40, and after just a few circuits, the #20 machine wasn't much better. "I'm doing everything I know to do to drive this thing," said Stewart just before the #77 Dodge of Dave Blaney passed him for 12th.

When another caution came out on lap 50, Stewart and Zipadelli opted to sacrifice track position to come to pit road. They had to improve their race car, and with only 60 laps remaining, they had to do it now.

Another two rounds of wedge were added to the left rear, while the track bar was lowered one round. With four new tires and fuel, Stewart left the pits in 26th.

Stewart began making his way toward the front, surviving a light scrape with another competitor on lap 57 that crinkled the right side sheet metal. But Stewart's big move of the race came shortly after a restart on lap 64, when a lap later, the entire field became bottle-necked in turn seven as Steve Park, Kyle Petty and Jack Sprague tangled.

Stewart picked his way through the melee and jumped to fifth, and soon was fourth once Jeff Gordon - who was ahead of Stewart - darted to pit road for scheduled service.

When Stewart made his scheduled pit stop while under green on lap 70, more chassis adjustments were made, with yet another two rounds of wedge added to the left rear. The track bar was also lowered one more round, and with four new tires and a full load of fuel, Stewart would need just one more stop before the checkered flag waved. After much work, Stewart and Company were finally looking good.

Stewart had just passed Dale Jarrett for eighth coming down the main straightaway on lap 75, and the top-five were within reach. But on lap 82, much of the team's hard work came undone, when Ryan Newman punted Stewart off course in turn seven. After being eighth, Stewart was now 28th, and his charge to the front had to begin anew.

Following the team's final stop of the day during a caution period on lap 90, Stewart did just that. With just enough fuel to go the rest of the distance, Stewart restarted the race in 26th. In 20 laps, Stewart passed 14 cars to finish 12th, a drive that moved Stewart up one spot in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings to 11th. After being 20th in the standings five races ago, Stewart is now just 43 points out of the top-10. A more daunting 547 points, however, separate Stewart from point leader Matt Kenseth.

Robby Gordon won the Dodge/Save Mart 350k, holding off Jeff Gordon for his second career Winston Cup victory. Kevin Harvick finished third, while Bill Elliott and Newman rounded out the top-five.

The Winston Cup Series takes a weekend off before heading to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the July 5 Pepsi 400. Live coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT on NBC.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Steve Park , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Robby Gordon , Ryan Newman , Jack Sprague , Dave Blaney