Tony Stewart Charlotte II race report

CONCORD, N.C., (Oct. 7, 2001) - Sterling Marlin was the class of the field and Tony Stewart was best in class in Sunday's UAW-GM Quality 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series event at Charlotte. Marlin's Dodge led 135 of the 334 laps, while Stewart's ...

CONCORD, N.C., (Oct. 7, 2001) - Sterling Marlin was the class of the field and Tony Stewart was best in class in Sunday's UAW-GM Quality 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series event at Charlotte.

Marlin's Dodge led 135 of the 334 laps, while Stewart's Pontiac paced the field for 130 circuits. The margin in laps led mimicked the margin of victory, as Marlin won by 6.002 seconds over Stewart.

Stewart's second-place effort was his sixth straight top-10 finish, a streak that dates back to Bristol (Tenn.) on Aug. 25 when he scored his 12th career Winston Cup victory.

Earning the podium finish was not done alone, as The Home Depot pit crew proved extra valuable on a day where track position was key.

Earning his keep was Stewart, who qualified his orange and white #20 machine in the sixth spot. But it was the over-the-wall crew who kept Stewart in contention throughout the day.

At the drop of the green, Stewart fell to seventh. But by lap 37, he had made his way to fifth.

Enter the pit crew.

With the entire field heading to pit road while under caution on lap 49, The Home Depot team knocked off a solid 14-second pit stop that vaulted Stewart from fifth to first. Stewart proceeded to lead until lap 96, when Marlin took over.

The Home Depot Pontiac proved strong early in a run, while Marlin's #40 ride was strong during the latter stages of a run. Throughout the day, the two combatants would leapfrog each other, Stewart leading early only to yield to a hard-charging Marlin after about 30 laps of green flag racing.

That set the stage for the finish.

The final caution flag of the day came out on lap 229 for oil on the race track. All the leaders headed to pit road, with Stewart's crew once again proving their merit. The Home Depot pilot entered the pits first and left the pits first, resuming his stake as the leader. It lasted until lap 265, when Marlin took the point.

A final round of green flag pit stops took place on lap 295 that saw both Stewart and Marlin make their last trips to pit road. Since Marlin held the lead over Stewart coming onto pit road, he left with it too.

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli made a last ditch effort to improve his driver's chances down the homestretch, raising the track bar two rounds to allow The Home Depot Pontiac to better roll through the center of the corner.

It was good enough to hold off third-place Ward Burton, but not enough to catch Marlin. Marlin scored his second victory of the season as well as the second victory for Dodge, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton rounded out the top-five.

"The Pontiacs just don't have the downforce they need," said Stewart as he climbed from his car. "With fresh tires we could go out and run the pace with almost identical lap times to Sterling. But once we'd get into traffic where the air was dirty, it was just like Indy car racing. I felt like I was Indy car racing with full-bodied stock cars. Whenever we'd get to lapped traffic it was hard to pass, then Sterling would just run right up to us and not even lose any time.

"It's time NASCAR does something about it. NASCAR helped the Dodges out earlier in the year. It's time to give the Pontiacs what they deserve now. We're running a five-year-old body style that hasn't had any help for two years now, so it's time to do something to even out the competition again.

"We were pretty loose the first two-thirds of the race," continued Stewart, "and then the last two runs we finally got it tight in the center of the corner to where we couldn't roll through the center. All the way up to that point we could get to the center of the corner. It was just a little bit too loose getting back on the throttle. We just kept trying to tighten the car up from the center of the corner off, to where we could get back in the gas hard. We finally got that part cured, but with doing that you always run the risk of making the car too tight in the center and that's what happened on the last two runs. We just couldn't get it freed up enough.

"But let me tell you something," added Stewart. "Sterling drove a great race today. He was real patient and he drove through traffic really well. Every time he'd go by was right about the time we'd get into traffic, so I got to watch what he was doing with the lapped cars. He was very, very methodical about where he was passing those guys and where he was catching guys. It wasn't just a deal where just because he had more downforce, he won the race today. He drove a great race. There is no shame in finishing second to a guy like Sterling, who ran as good as he did today."

While Stewart finished second to Marlin in the race, he continues to maintain his third-place standing in the championship point race. Stewart holds a 44-point advantage over fourth-place Marlin, while second-place Ricky Rudd is 153 points ahead. Jeff Gordon remains atop the point standings with a 237-point lead over Rudd.

The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Oct. 14 at 12:30 p.m. EDT. NBC will provide live coverage of the event.

-HDR-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Sterling Marlin