HENRICO COUNTY, Va., (May 5, 2001) - Tony Stewart scored his 10th career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory at the race track where he earned his first career victory - Richmond International Raceway. It's been less than two years since Stewart...
HENRICO COUNTY, Va., (May 5, 2001) - Tony Stewart scored his 10th career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory at the race track where he earned his first career victory - Richmond International Raceway.
It's been less than two years since Stewart earned win number one in September of 1999 at the .750-mile oval, and in that time, Stewart has become one of the most winningest drivers on the Winston Cup circuit.
His performance behind the wheel of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac in the Pontiac Excitement 400 was all the reason why.
"This is probably the most competitive Richmond race I've ever been a part of," said Stewart, who has now made five Richmond starts. "So many drivers and so many cars were so fast all night long that on any given run there were five or six guys who had the potential to lead."
Stewart started the first night race of the season from the seventh spot, and worked his way into the lead by lap 147. He held the top spot until pitting during a caution on lap 199, where he emerged from the pits in fourth. He ran no worse than fifth the rest of the evening, retaking the lead from Rusty Wallace on lap 363.
But winning the race wasn't as easy as just retaking the lead with 38 laps remaining in the 400-lap race.
The caution flag waved just eight laps short of the finish for Dave Blaney's meeting with the turn three wall. Instead of the race ending under caution while clean up crews cleared the track of debris, NASCAR threw the red flag - stopping the race with seven laps to go.
It was not what crew chief Greg Zipadelli, Stewart and the rest of The Home Depot Racing Team wanted to see.
Throughout the course of the race, Stewart's #20 ride proved to work best on long, green flag runs. As the tires heated up, so did Stewart, making lap times nearly a tenth better than his nearest competitors. But it took nearly 30 laps before Stewart could really put the hammer down, as he was doing prior to Blaney's accident.
The worry amongst the team and Stewart was that the three-minute red flag period would adversely affect the handling of The Home Depot Pontiac.
Their worries were put to the test with just two laps to go, as the race was restarted for the final time. Thankfully, Stewart was able to get a jump on Wallace. Seeing the white flag, Stewart pulled out a .372-second advantage over the #2 Ford, a distance he was able to hold when the checkers dropped.
"I didn't want to see that last caution," said Stewart. "The last two laps of the race the cars slid around all over the place. I tried to think of every restart I knew in the book and everything I've learned in 23 years on how to get a good restart with just a couple of laps to go. The last thing you want to see is a caution when you've got almost a straightaway lead. We hated to see that, but at the same time we had a really good car. It just shows that 'Wider is Better' after all."
Better indeed, as Stewart jumped two spots in points to seventh, just 172 markers behind series leader Dale Jarrett. In all, Stewart led 93 laps and scored the first victory for Pontiac.
"I think this definitely puts us back in the championship picture," said Stewart. "We're working awfully hard. These guys have never given up and I've never given up, and we're not going to give up now. We've still got a lot of racing left this year. And with two extra tracks on the schedule this year, we've got even more opportunity to earn some more points."
Also adding to his point tally was Jeff Gordon, who finished second in the Pontiac Excitement 400. Currently second in the championship standings, Gordon closed to within 14 points of Jarrett.
Jarrett, the 1999 Winston Cup champion, ran out of gas just before the last restart. He was forced to pit road for a quick splash and go, and subsequently ended the race in 15th position.
Others who were able to make sizeable point gains were Wallace, who wound up third and moved to third in points, 62 behind Jarrett. Steve Park finished fourth and solidified his eighth-place point standing, and like Stewart, is 172 points arrears of Jarrett. Rounding out the top-five was Ricky Rudd, who continues to run strong, as he sits just 148 points away from Jarrett.
The Winston Cup Series takes next weekend off in observance of Mother's Day, returning to action May 19 at Charlotte Motor Speedway for The Winston. The non-points race, set to begin at 9 p.m. EDT, will be telecast live on the FX network.