DOVER, Del., (Sept. 23, 2001) - Tony Stewart probably worked harder on Sunday for a fifth-place finish in the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway than he has for any of his 12 career NASCAR Winston Cup Series ...
DOVER, Del., (Sept. 23, 2001) - Tony Stewart probably worked harder on Sunday for a fifth-place finish in the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway than he has for any of his 12 career NASCAR Winston Cup Series wins.
Stewart was never comfortable behind the wheel of his #20 Home Depot Pontiac, as it wobbled back and forth between being incredibly loose and incredibly tight.
"It was an awfully tough day," said Stewart. "The last 100 laps were the longest 100 laps I've run in a while. We just couldn't really find anything that would work for us today. The guys did a great job on pit road and kept us as close to the front as possible, but it was just tough to race with anybody today. I'm drained. I'm mentally and physically drained, and I shouldn't have to feel that way after only 400 miles at Dover."
Stewart started 11th, and before lap 50 was in the top-five, all the while complaining about the handling of his race car. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli did his best to remedy the #20 machine's handling woes, calling for track bar adjustments, wedge adjustments and air pressure adjustments whenever the option to pit came available.
During the course of the race, seven pit stops were made, including a lightning quick stop that vaulted Stewart from third to first while under caution on lap 168. When the race restarted on lap 171, Stewart was able to hold the point for three laps before his orange and white Pontiac returned to its ugly self.
"It's already all over the place," yelled Stewart over the radio on lap 174. Indeed it was, as Stewart skated through the corners lap after lap. Unfortunately for Stewart, the race hadn't even reached the halfway point.
Nonetheless, Stewart persevered and gutted it out with only one minor incident before the checkered flag fell.
With 12 laps remaining, Stewart was in sixth place and coming up quick on the #88 Ford of Dale Jarrett. Stewart moved to the inside of Jarrett in turn one, and kept his nose under Jarrett's left quarterpanel as they came off turn two. Slight contact was made. Jarrett spun and Stewart continued, with Jarrett finishing 12th and Stewart coming home fifth.
Said Stewart about the incident, "Anybody who'd been watching could see that Dale was going in on the bottom, sliding halfway up the racetrack, and then when I'd get a run through the center of the corner he'd cut down. He was just doing it to protect his spot. But he's got to understand that he's putting himself in a bad position when he does that, especially if I get a bigger run than he thinks. Three times I had to slam on the brakes to keep him from hitting the right front of my car. It's just a bad deal.
"He's not a guy that I ever want to turn," continued Stewart. "I don't want to turn anybody. I'm so tired of controversy. I don't need any of this. I really like Dale Jarrett. He's a good guy and he's been a good friend to me this year. He is one of the last guys I would have liked to have seen that happen to."
While it wasn't a fun race for Stewart, it was at least productive.
His fifth-place finish was his fifth top-five in six career Winston Cup starts at the one-mile oval. His only Dover finish outside of the top-five was a seventh-place drive back in June of this year.
The run also moved Stewart from fourth to third in the championship point standings, 412 markers behind current leader Jeff Gordon. This is the highest Stewart has been in the point standings this season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove his #8 Chevrolet to his fourth career victory in a race named in honor of the soon-to-be-retired and eventual Hall of Fame inductee Cal Ripken, who ironically wears the #8 while playing third base for the Baltimore Orioles. It was Earnhardt Jr.'s second victory in 2001 and his first win in four Dover starts.
Jerry Nadeau finished second and Ricky Rudd came home third, while point leader Gordon protected his lead with a strong fourth-place effort.
The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sept. 30 at 1 p.m. EDT. NBC will provide live coverage of the event.