Stewart sixth in The Winston. CONCORD, N.C., (May 18, 2002) - With a $750,000 paycheck going to the winner of The Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night, Tony Stewart had all the motivation he needed to wheel his ...
Stewart sixth in The Winston.
CONCORD, N.C., (May 18, 2002) - With a $750,000 paycheck going to the winner of The Winston at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night, Tony Stewart had all the motivation he needed to wheel his #20 Home Depot Pontiac to victory lane in the 18th running of the non-points, all-star event.
But there were 26 other drivers who were just as motivated. And when the smoke cleared, standing in the winner's circle was an Indiana native who made a name for himself in open-wheel Sprint cars and Midgets that eventually led to his plum ride in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
Unfortunately, that Hoosier wasn't Stewart. Instead it was Ryan Newman, a rookie on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit who out-dueled Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the victory - Stewart, a.k.a. the "Rushville (Ind.) Rocket," wound up sixth.
The format for this year's running of The Winston consisted of three segments. The first segment was 40 laps, while the second segment was 30 laps and the last segment was 20 laps. Adding a twist to this year's race was driver eliminations. Only the top-20 from the first segment could advance to the second segment, and only the top-10 from the second segment could advance to the final 20-lap shootout.
Despite starting 23rd for the first 40-lap dash, Stewart did make the cut to advance into the second leg of The Winston. It wasn't easy however, as an extremely tight Home Depot Pontiac made driving a handful. Still, Stewart was able to climb to 12th thanks to some tenacious driving on his part and some impatient driving on his competitor's parts.
Sterling Marlin, Bobby Hamilton, Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace all crashed out before the first segment was over, leaving just 23 cars to vie for the 20 available spots in the second leg. But despite the attrition rate helping to advance Stewart in the running order, the team's mandatory green flag pit stop was a bit slow, canceling out any advancement opportunities. As a result, Stewart dropped to 18th.
When the first segment ended, Ward Burton, Steve Park and Mike Wallace didn't make the cut, but Stewart did, crossing the stripe in 17th when lap 40 was completed. Winning the segment was rookie Jimmie Johnson.
With a brief pause in the racing action between segments, teams were allowed to work on their race cars. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli removed a round of wedge from the left rear corner of the car to hopefully loosen up The Home Depot Pontiac, while other crew members repaired some light damage to the rear bumper that had occurred at some point during the race.
Stewart started the second segment in 17th spot, but had moved to 12th when the caution flag waved for Mark Martin's blown engine on lap 52.
Five cars outside of the top-10 - the magic number needed to advance into the final dash for cash - came to pit road for fresh tires. Stewart was amongst the group, as he needed two stops to make repairs to the nose of The Home Depot Pontiac after contact with the #29 car of Kevin Harvick earlier in the segment.
Johnson, meanwhile, was still leading, with Bill Elliott and Earnhardt Jr. in tow. At the other end of the spectrum, however, was Jeremy Mayfield and Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte. Both drivers dropped out of the race when on lap 61 the two made contact with each other while racing Robby Gordon for the final transfer spot.
With five laps remaining in the segment, Stewart was in 10th, with Michael Waltrip and Jeff Gordon in close quarters. Jeff Gordon made his way past Waltrip for 11th, but with just three laps to go, couldn't catch Stewart for 10th. Jeff Gordon, a three-time winner of The Winston was out, as was Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, Joe Nemechek, Terry Labonte and the rest of those who had fallen by the wayside.
Johnson continued his winning ways by taking the second segment, but when a fan vote on NASCAR.com inverted the field for the final 20-lap segment, it was Stewart on the pole for the final segment.
Stewart led the first four laps when the race went green, but a Home Depot Pontiac that started the race too tight was now too loose. Newman took the lead and seemed to check out from the field, as he opened up a three-second advantage over Stewart. But when Robby Gordon tried to bully his way past Stewart for second on lap 85, Kurt Busch hit Robby Gordon from behind and spun him on the backstretch.
The yellow flag waved, Newman's monstrous lead evaporated, and a five-lap sprint to the checkers with a big payday was on.
Newman jumped the green on the first restart, but NASCAR waved it off and lined up the cars for another go. This time Newman got away clean, while Earnhardt Jr. charged toward him. Newman held his ground, despite the intimidating presence of Earnhardt Jr. Stewart dropped to sixth as Matt Kenseth, Busch and Johnson rounded out the top-five.
The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the May 26 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Live coverage by FOX begins at 5:30 p.m. EDT.