Tony Stewart passed the No. 21 of Ricky Rudd with 21 laps to go to take the win at the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. Stewart led most of the race but fell back to 11th place after several cars stayed out during pit stops at lap ...
Tony Stewart passed the No. 21 of Ricky Rudd with 21 laps to go to take the win at the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. Stewart led most of the race but fell back to 11th place after several cars stayed out during pit stops at lap 68.
Stewart picked off cars one-by-one to climb back to the top spot and gain his first win of the season and 20th of his career. The task wasn't easy.
Stewart lost third and fourth gear and had to drive the car with one hand to be able to wheel past Rudd for his fourth NASCAR road course victory.
"Toward the end of the race, with 30 laps to go, I lost fourth gear," said Stewart. "It wasn't but a couple laps after that that it popped out of third gear twice. I could survive without fourth but couldn't survive without third, so I just kept holding it in gear and kept trying not to tear it up.
"But it made it really hard going through the esses and down through turn 10.driving with one hand like that and trying to be smooth with a guy like Ricky Rudd who's so good on road courses anyway he's smart."
Ricky Rudd held off the hard-charging car of Kurt Busch to grab second. Rudd's No. 21 Ford just made it to the checkered flag running out of gas shortly thereafter.
"We knew it was gonna be within a lap of making it or not making it," said Rudd of his fuel window. "Then it started surging and popping and snapping before it finally ran out. We knew all along it was going to be close. He (Michael McSwain, crew chief) said "it's within a lap, but it could be one way or the other. We might not make it. We've done a good job all year.
"We just finally got some results that this team deserved. The pit strategy was unbelievable. We had a good car but we needed the track position and they gave it to us."
Kurt Busch was third and Rusty Wallace fourth.
"It was a solid job," Busch said. "Ricky Rudd did an awesome job. To finish third to him and have Tony as the fastest car, we did a great job.we had a great set-up and it's good to bounce back."
Robert Yates Racing teammates Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler used pit strategy to ascend from the back to the front to earn fifth and sixth. The duo pitted for the last time at lap 65, stretching the average fuel mileage here by approximately five miles.
It's especially sweet for Sadler who spun during his time-trial lap and started 42nd while Jarrett rolled off 30th.
"It was a great day," said Sadler. "Todd (Parrott, crew chief) had a game plan and we stuck to it and it worked out for us, so I'm very proud of my guys to come home sixth and for Dale Jarrett to come home fifth.
"It was a great run for the Woods Brothers to finish second. So, all-in-all it was a great day for everybody."
Pole sitter Jeff Gordon led the field to the green flag and dominated the early stages of the event, until transmission let go on lap 40. While the No. 24 team was able to make repairs and regain position on the lead lap; it's another hard points hit for the No. 24 Chevy team who has had a run of bad luck the last several weeks.
"I'm getting to the point where I don't care about points," Gordon commented. "I don't even care about the championship. All I care about is getting our stuff going and getting ourselves to be in these races where we can put ourselves in contention to win."
Gordon finished 33rd and drops to 14th in points, 414 shy of the top spot.
Gordon wasn't alone with his transmission woes. Teammates Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson had similar issues. Johnson stayed on the lead lap but troubles continued to mount.
With 42 to go, the No. 48 Chevy made contact with the No. 88 Ford of Dale Jarrett turning Johnson in turn 7. He finished 36th and drops from first to second in standings.
Greg Biffle moves to the head of the 2005 Nextel Cup class. Jimmie Johnson (-22), Elliott Sadler (-177), Tony Stewart (-198), Mark Martin (-228), Rusty Wallace (-237), Ryan Newman (-256), Kurt Busch (-272), Carl Edwards (- 287), and Jamie McMurray (-327) complete the top ten.
"It sounds really good," said Biffle of taking over the point lead. "Even if I only lead it for a week, I wanted to be the point leader. This team has worked really hard toward being the points leader. We've had two or three bad races and we've been able to bounce back from them."
Notably, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also suffered transmission problems and wrecked the No. 8 Chevy on lap 3. His 42nd place result sends him to 18th in rankings, 543 in the rears.
"We are in control of this," Earnhardt said. "So, we need to not make these mistakes. The transmission was a new, trick transmission and it didn't work. So, last year's transmission was pretty good."
There were eight cautions for 18 laps and seven lead changes among six drivers.