Talladega: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart Second at Talladega... Again Home Depot Driver Avoids the 'Big One' to Climb Back Into Top-10 TALLADEGA, Ala., (May 1, 2005) - Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway proved extremely difficult ...

Stewart Second at Talladega... Again
Home Depot Driver Avoids the 'Big One' to Climb Back Into Top-10

TALLADEGA, Ala., (May 1, 2005) - Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway proved extremely difficult to finish, never mind finish well. But Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, did just that as he finished a strong second to race winner Jeff Gordon.

It was Stewart's fourth second-place finish in 13 career Nextel Cup starts at the 2.66-mile tri-oval. And while typically unsatisfied unless his Sunday ends inside a race track's victory lane, Stewart's runner-up result at Talladega suited him just fine.

"I think we're the king of second-place finishes here, but there's no shame in that, by any means," said Stewart, who started 11th. "The best car won the race today. Jeff had the best car, for sure, but he also did everything right today behind the steering wheel. He was always in the right line and he always put himself in the right place at the right time."

Starting from the outside of the front row, Gordon proved stout all day, and Stewart knew that neither he nor anyone else could match his speed.J But while Stewart wasn't able to overcome Gordon's quickness, he was able to overcome the mega crashes that left only 13 of the day's 43 starters on the lead lap when the race ended under a green-white-checker finish.

There were eight caution periods for 30 laps, but it was the "Big One" on lap 133 that was vicious enough to bring out the red flag for 43 minutes. Twenty-five cars were caught up in the melee, but it was Stewart who threaded the needle so well that nary a scratch was put on his Home Depot Chevrolet.

"I saw the '17' (Matt Kenseth) spinning and that's when I saw the wreck," said Stewart. "My spotter said go low so I went clear down on that really wide piece of asphalt down there on the bottom just before turn one. I was staying to the right of the '17' car but he kept moving to the right, so I just kept slowing down and slowing down. And there's guys coming off the banking, wrecking and sliding past us. I just kept on straight, slowing down, downshifting, slowing down, downshifting. Finally, I just had to come to a complete stop and I had five cars wreck right in front of me without putting a scratch on me. I put it in reverse, backed up out of the wreck, drove around it and took off again. That was really the only close moment we had. The rest of the day was pretty smooth."

There were more accidents - including one final multi-car crash on lap 187 that involved point leader Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr. and Travis Kvapil - but they all happened behind Stewart as he was up front gouging for the lead.

But the lap 187 accident came just a lap before the race's scheduled 188-lap distance. And with NASCAR ending all its races under green - a mandate made last season - a green-white-checker dash to the finish was in order, extending the race distance to 194 laps.

"Anytime you have a green-white-checker you know you've got to do something," said Stewart. "You can't just sit there. And you know everybody else's attitudes are the same and they're not going to just sit there either. They're going to move around and try to get everything they can get. We got the right pushes we needed and got a run on a couple of guys and caught 'em off guard and got up to second.

"We restarted in fourth and I had Michael (Waltrip) behind me. I had a good car and he had a good car. Michael gave me a great push that got me through those guys in front of us. They knew that Jeff had the fastest car and they knew they weren't going to get around him, so they went with him. Michael and I got a great run out of (turns) three and four and really caught those guys off guard and got by them right away.J "I think at that point, we had a shot. If we had a better car than Jeff, we would've had a shot. Michael pushed me all the way down the backstretch and we still couldn't catch him. Jeff just had a better car than we had today."

Better car? Yes. Better point day? No.

That title belonged to Stewart, who reasserted himself within the top-10 after three straight sub-par races dropped him from fifth to 14th in the championship point standings. The second-place effort at Talladega allowed the 2002 series champion to pick up eight spots, the best point gain of any driver. Stewart is now sixth in points, 280 markers arrears series leader Johnson.

With Gordon, Stewart and Waltrip finishing 1-2-3, it allowed a sweep of the podium for manufacturer Chevrolet. Jeremy Mayfield's Dodge broke up the Chevy juggernaut with his fourth-place finish, and behind him in fifth was fellow Dodge pilot Jamie McMurrary. Sixth and seventh went to the Fords of Elliott Sadler and reigning series champion Kurt Busch, respectively. Rounding out the rest of the top-10 were Ken Schrader, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton.

The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the May 7 Dodge Charger 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The race begins at 7:10 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Martin Truex Jr. , Elliott Sadler , Travis Kvapil
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing