SPEEDWAY, Ind., (Aug. 5, 2001) - Indiana native Tony Stewart was both a sentimental favorite and a legitimate favorite to win Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, fate doesn't play favorites, which is why Stewart...
SPEEDWAY, Ind., (Aug. 5, 2001) - Indiana native Tony Stewart was both a sentimental favorite and a legitimate favorite to win Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, fate doesn't play favorites, which is why Stewart finished 17th in the Brickyard 400 instead of first.
Stewart was a threat to win for all but the last 23 laps, when on lap 137 Stewart brushed the turn two wall while battling with Dale Jarrett's #88 Ford for seventh.
Stewart had been running in the top-three for much of the day, but on the team's final pit stop while under caution on lap 132, the #20 team took four tires to a handful of teams that only took two. The #40 Dodge of Sterling Marlin stayed out on the race track and inherited the lead, while the cars of Jeff Gordon, Ricky Craven, Johnny Benson, Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch took two tires during their trip to pit road. This put Stewart in seventh, with the equally fast cars of Steve Park, Jarrett and Earnhardt Jr. lined up right behind Stewart in eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively, as they had opted for four tires as well.
The pit stop performed by The Home Depot over-the-wall crew was excellent, as they were the first of the four-tire changers to exit the pits. Still, the distance between Stewart and leader Marlin was significant.
When the race restarted on lap 135, the mad scramble to the front began. Jarrett had moved his way past Park for eighth and was gunning for Stewart. The two raced side-by-side down the front straightaway, all the while dodging lapped traffic.
With Stewart losing ground to Jarrett's charge on the inside upon entering turn two, and with the lapped car of Michael Waltrip clogging the low groove, The Home Depot Pontiac drifted high and smacked the outside wall.
The damage wasn't severe, but it significantly altered the handling characteristics of the #20 machine. Stewart quickly faded out of the top-10, and as the laps ticked away toward the finish, Stewart dropped even lower. When the checkered flag mercifully waved, Stewart was 17th.
Disappointed with the outcome and disgusted over what could've been, Stewart could only manage the words, "Bad race," when asked about his day at Indy.
Crew chief Greg Zipadelli, however, better articulated the feelings of the team.
"We were on the outside of the '88' and we were racing hard," said Zipadelli. "We were trying to get around some lapped cars too. With 18 or 20 laps to go or whatever it was, it's like, 'Get the heck out of the way. Give somebody a break.' If they drove that hard all day then they wouldn't be in that position. It's just frustrating, especially at places like this because they can hold you up and screw you up for so long. But, whatever. What goes around comes around."
When asked about Stewart's mood following the race, Zipadelli responded, "Tony's just like me and the rest of the 22 guys here - just disgusted and frustrated. We had a top-five car all day. We should have been there. Instead, we've got a top-20 finish. That's not acceptable this late in the season. We need to be better than that. What was the reason or the cause? Could we have done things differently? I don't know. It was just one of those things. It just wasn't our day.
"We had pretty high hopes. We had a really good car here yesterday during final practice. The Home Depot Pontiac ran well from the time we unloaded it, really. It's just a big letdown. We came here - Tony's home track, I guess. He loves this place. It means so much to him. I just feel bad we weren't able to do a better job for him."
The finish dropped Stewart from fourth to fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship point standings, 324 markers out of the lead. Marlin re-claimed the fourth spot and now sits just one point ahead of Stewart.
While fate may have cast Stewart aside it seemed to smile on Gordon, as the two-tire strategy executed by his Hendrick Motorsports team paid big dividends. The Pittsboro, Ind., native was able to notch his third victory in the Brickyard 400 and his fourth of the season, extending his lead in the championship point standings to 160 over his nearest pursuer - Jarrett. If history is any indication of the future, Gordon will win his fourth Winston Cup title, as the past three winners of the annual Brickyard 400 have gone on to win the championship - Gordon in 1998, Jarrett in 1999 and Bobby Labonte in 2000.
Marlin's no-stop strategy earned him second-place, while the two-tire plan executed by Benson, Wallace and Busch earned them third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the Global Crossing @ The Glen, the second and final road course race on the Winston Cup schedule. The Aug. 12 race begins at 1 p.m. EDT with NBC providing live coverage from Watkins Glen, N.Y.