BROOKLYN, Mich., (Aug. 19, 2001) - Tony Stewart limped into the garage area Friday morning at Michigan International Speedway and left Sunday afternoon in much the same fashion. A sprained left foot stemming from a minor accident at home late ...
BROOKLYN, Mich., (Aug. 19, 2001) - Tony Stewart limped into the garage area Friday morning at Michigan International Speedway and left Sunday afternoon in much the same fashion.
A sprained left foot stemming from a minor accident at home late Tuesday afternoon left Stewart physically limping, but it was his 27th place finish in the Pepsi 400 that really pained the driver of The Home Depot Pontiac.
Before his day went awry, Stewart had a car capable of finishing in the top-15. On a leaderboard dominated by Fords and Dodges, Stewart's Pontiac was best in class. Said Stewart to crew chief Greg Zipadelli on lap 88, "The car's really balanced. I'm not sure what to tell you to make this thing any faster. It feels good and the motor's decent."
But four laps later the radio conversation turned frantic, when The Home Depot Pontiac ran out of gas just after crossing the start/finish line.
The team had calculated that the #20 car could make it to lap 96 on fuel, as they had pitted on lap 42 and topped off the 22-gallon fuel tank. To run out of gas three laps short from their scheduled pit stop was perplexing, and above all, frustrating.
When Stewart finally coasted to pit road on lap 93, the team changed four tires and added all the gas The Home Depot Pontiac could take. Still, having run the #20 ride out of gas meant that the engine was tough to re-fire. The team pushed the car down pit road as Stewart frantically worked to restart the engine. Finally, the engine came to life, but the whole ordeal put Stewart one lap down.
When rains washed over the race track on lap 98, it took only two more laps for the red flag to wave, temporarily halting the race. Since it was the halfway mark of the 200-lap race, the event was official. But a break in the weather allowed track crews to dry the track, and an hour and 45 minutes later, racing resumed.
Stewart worked his way to 27th before the rains returned, forcing NASCAR officials to finally call the race on lap 162, 38 circuits shy of the full race distance.
The weekend wasn't all bad, however, as Stewart's 10th place qualifying effort on Friday was his career best at Michigan. His previous best at the two-mile oval was a 19th place run, which he achieved in last year's Pepsi 400.
Unfortunately, qualifying didn't earn Stewart any points. Only race finishes are good for padding one's point tally, and Stewart's 27th place run was worth only 82 markers. As a result, he dropped to 483 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon, but still managed to maintain his fifth-place standing.
Gordon finished seventh, and extended his point lead dramatically over his nearest pursuers. Ricky Rudd, who had been second to Gordon by 194 points entering the Pepsi 400, dropped to 298 points arrears due to an engine failure. Despite Rudd's dismal 41st place finish, he held steady in the runner-up spot. Dale Jarrett, who held the point lead at the beginning of the season, fared no better. He smacked the wall on lap 143 but continued on, albeit at a slower pace. Jarrett wound up 36th and now sits 354 points behind Gordon.
Sterling Marlin won the rain-shortened Pepsi 400 and delivered Dodge its first Winston Cup victory since the late Neil Bonnett won with a Dodge at Ontario (Calif.) on Nov. 20, 1977. In the process, he broke a 170-race losing streak dating back to Daytona (Fla.) on July 6, 1996. Marlin was chased to the line by pole-sitter Ricky Craven, whose second-place effort was a career best. Following Craven's Ford was another Dodge in the hands of veteran wheelman Bill Elliott, who notched his best finish of the season with a strong third-place run. Fourth went to Ford pilot Matt Kenseth, and coming home fifth in a Pontiac was Michigan native Johnny Benson.
The next race on the Winston Cup schedule is the Sharpie 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Aug. 25 at 8 p.m. EDT. TNT will provide live coverage of the event.