LONG POND, Pa. - No one thought it would take until June, but reigning Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart finally landed his first victory of 2003 at Pocono Raceway. This was Stewart's 16th career victory and first at the 2.5-mile triangle in the...
LONG POND, Pa. - No one thought it would take until June, but reigning Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart finally landed his first victory of 2003 at Pocono Raceway. This was Stewart's 16th career victory and first at the 2.5-mile triangle in the Pocono Mountains.
A late race caution, the fourth of the event, waved on lap 192, when Kurt Busch hit the wall, setting up a three lap shoot-out for the victory between the top running cars. As the cars took the green flag on the restart, Jeff Green in the No. 1 DEI Chevy was tapped by Terry Labonte sending him nose first into the retaining wall.
That brought out the fifth caution of the day, and forced NASCAR to end the event under the yellow flag. Green was uninjured in the crash.
Stewart first gained the lead on lap 154, when on a round of green flag pit stops, Stewart beat then leader Sterling Marlin off pit road. Stewart remained patient and flawless throughout the 200-laps wading through lapped traffic and varying pit strategies to ultimately stay in the top seat.
"The guys on the pit crew are the ones that won us this race," said Stewart. "They got us the track position and we were able to run our pace, not everybody else's pace."
It's a sweet victory for Stewart, who just one week ago was penalized one lap while leading the race at Dover for pitting outside of the box. The penalty sent him from first to the 32nd, and although he was able to rebound to a fourth place finish; it ultimately cost him the victory. Stewart, who's never fond of coming in anywhere on the charts but in #1, was visibly disgruntled.
Today's win serves as a welcome respite in a season that has been filled with up-and-down results. In spite of scoring four top-five's, the No. 20 team has also been marred with four finishes of 34th or worse.
"It's just a matter of consistency on our part," continued Stewart. "We haven't had any luck all year. All of our sponsors have kept patting us on the back and telling us we were going to get it eventually, we just had to keep our heads up and keep focused and we've done that. We finally got one here today."
Mark Martin piloting the No. 6 Roush Ford gains his best finish of 2003 in second. It is Martin's fifth top-five finish this season.
"We couldn't beat Tony unless something happened," said Martin. "But I was sure gonna try to make something happen there at the end. I wanted to run it out. We had a great car on the long run and it's a just a tribute to Ben Leslie (No. 6 crew chief) and the whole Viagra team."
Winston Cup point leader Matt Kenseth retains his lead in the rankings with third place. Kenseth now pulls out to a 176 point advantage over the field. For Kenseth, ending under caution wasn't disappointing.
"It wasn't discouraging at all for me," said Kenseth. "I wasn't gonna catch those guys. I was gonna finish third anyway. It's a 500-mile race and we ran 490 miles. If there was a red flag it would kind of be setting everybody up for a wreck, so I was happy with the way it ended. It was good."
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. goes home fourth for his second top ten in seven starts at Pocono.
"I was happy with the top five," said Earnhardt. "We didn't have the best car, and Tony had a real good car. I'm pretty happy. It was a top-five. Matt finished right in front of us, but we've been keeping him in sight, and that's all we can do all year long to stay in the point battle. I'm really proud of my team; we had a great car all weekend. When you have a good car you can do whatever you want."
Ryan Newman continues to dig the No. 12 Dodge team out of their sophomore slump, landing his third straight top five finish.
"That was another good run for the ALLTEL Dodge," said Newman. "Matt (Borland, crew chief) and the guys did a great job today going in cold turkey without knowing what the race track was going to do because of all the rain and no practice yesterday. Looks like we've got our consistency back.
"We're finishing races now and that's the big difference. We had a bunch of problems earlier in the season, and we don't need to go through all those again."
Pole sitter Jimmie Johnson stayed out of trouble to gain the No. 48 Chevy their seventh top-ten of 2003. Johnson finished 12th.
Defending race champion Dale Jarrett was involved in a scary crash on lap 54. The RYR Ford backed into the turn one wall and erupted into flames. Jarrett was uninjured in the incident.
"Apparently, it cut a tire of the tread started coming off the right-rear just going down the straightaway before I even got to the point of shifting," said Jarrett. "It's unfortunate. I had a really good race car and it's just kind of the way the season has gone."
Earlier in the event, Ken Schrader made hard contact with the turn one wall. Schrader's car flipped over, and also burst into fire.
"It kind of jerked around and hit backwards," said Schrader. "The back end of this thing is awful soft. NASCAR has done so much with the safety stuff that it felt like a puppy hit."
Both drivers were treated and released from the infield care center.
Jarrett finished 42nd, Schrader 43rd.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remains second in series rankings followed by Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch.