CONCORD, N.C., (May 20, 2001) - It didn't start off as well as Tony Stewart would have liked, but the 17th running of The Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway did have at least one good highlight for The Home Depot Pontiac driver to...
CONCORD, N.C., (May 20, 2001) - It didn't start off as well as Tony Stewart would have liked, but the 17th running of The Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway did have at least one good highlight for The Home Depot Pontiac driver to enjoy.
Stewart pocketed $50,000 for winning the second of three segments in the special non-points event, as he handily prevailed over second-place Jeff Gordon.
The win gave some much needed relief to Stewart, as he thought his chances of running competitively, never mind winning, were cut short by over-revving the engine at the start of the race's first 30-lap leg.
With a band of thunderstorms moving through the Charlotte area, a very light rain began to fall just as the field of 21 cars began to make their pace laps. The track appeared to be dry, but when the green flag dropped and the leaders barreled into turn one, competitors began slipping and sliding toward the outside wall.
Some drivers managed to save their rides, as Stewart did at the start when he badly spun his rear tires and subsequently red-lined the tachometer. Others weren't so lucky. They were Gordon, Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick, who all sustained heavy damage to their race cars.
But since caution laps aren't counted in The Winston, the resulting caution of the turn one melee meant that the race never officially started, as there was no lap one.
Compounding the delay was the increase in rain which postponed the start of the race for nearly two hours. During that time, those with wrecked race cars were able to bring out their backups, roll them through the tech line and place them on the grid.
When the race was finally able to get underway at 11:25 p.m., Gordon, Waltrip, Burton and Harvick went to the tail end of the field.
But prior to the 11:25 p.m. start, Stewart wheeled his #20 machine onto pit road. In the team's haste to remove the car cover after the rain shower, they neglected to put the radio antenna back on the roof of the race car. It was a minor fix, but a very necessary one.
Stewart left pit road ready to rejoin the field in his fourth-place qualifying spot. But NASCAR had other ideas. The sanctioning body sent Stewart to the back of the pack for the unscheduled pit stop, despite the race having never officially begun. Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli, along with team owner Joe Gibbs, vehemently defended their position that since the race hadn't yet started, that fourth-place was their rightful position. Despite their protests, NASCAR maintained its decision. Stewart dropped to 21st - the last car in the field.
Despite the real estate between him and the front row, Stewart methodically worked his way up to seventh. In doing so, he kept a watchful eye on the engine and water temperature gauges. His over-revving of the engine during the aborted start was making his Joe Gibbs Racing powerplant sound "like a sewing machine," according to Stewart. He was afraid that his engine might not last for the second 30-lap segment and the final 10-lap dash.
But last it did. Stewart started the second stint of The Winston in fourth-place as the top-12 finishers in the first leg were inverted. It took Stewart just 19 laps to earn the lead, a position he held to the finish.
Before the final 10-lap sprint began, many teams opted to pit, including The Home Depot squad. With four fresh tires at his disposal, Stewart rejoined the field in fifth. He eventually made his way to third with just five laps to go, saying, "This is all I've got." Gordon expanded his lead on second-place Dale Jarrett, and Jarrett further distanced himself from Stewart up until the waving of the checkered flag.
While the outing wasn't perfect, it did provide Stewart and Co. with some insight as to how they might perform next Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600.
"Well, you have nights like that," said Stewart in regard to his up-and-down evening. "We had a great race car tonight. I tell you what, I'm really excited about next week because on long runs we've got a great race car.
"I want to give a call to my motor guys tonight. They build strong engines and I proved that tonight. I thought I really hurt the engine at the start. I spun the tires at the start/finish line and over-revved it pretty good. I was pretty worried about it, but not only did it survive, it stayed strong. It was just a really good piece - one of a bunch that I've had this year."