| ||Associated Press|
DOVER, Del. -- The Rushville Rocket is back, and now Tony
Stewart doesn't have to explain where he has been hiding this
Stewart's disappointing second year, marked by the kind of failures he rarely experienced as the top Winston Cup rookie, took an upward turn Sunday with a victory in the MBNA Platinum 400.
"We've had some ups and downs lately," Stewart said. "We need
to have more days like this, but I'll trade wins for consistency,"
Stewart came into the race at Dover Downs International Speedway
10th in the series standings, but had failed to finish three times
after just one DNF all last year. He set rookie records with three
wins and a fourth-place finish in points in 1999.
"We want to win more races, but need to finish in the top five,
and if we do, the points will take care of themselves," he said.
That's exactly what happened Sunday, when Stewart dominated both
The Monster Mile and the competition, leading 242 of 400 laps.
"We had an unbelievable car," he said "We never had to change
anything but air pressure."
The only real problem for Stewart was the possibility he would
be beaten on fuel mileage, as he was a year ago by current points
leader and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte.
But Kyle Petty, driving in relief of teammate John Andretti,
tapped Sterling Marlin, who spun and brought out a caution flag
with nine laps remaining.
After another caution, rookie Matt Kenseth made a run at
Stewart, but was unable to pass him with 13 laps to go.
"On the restart, I held it wide open in one and two, and down
the backstretch, trying to get a run on him," said Kenseth, who
got his breakthrough victory a week earlier in Concord, N.C. "I
just didn't have enough to beat him."
Stewart, who had crashed in two races and blown an engine in
another, had few problems this time. He started 16th in his
Pontiac, passed Jeremy Mayfield for the lead on lap 107 and toyed
with the field most of the time thereafter.
By the halfway point there was no question that Stewart was the
car to beat.
"We had a car that could drive away from everybody," he said.
The 29-year-old driver from Rushville, Ind., out of the lead
only because of pit stops in the second half of the event went to
the front for the final time on the 337th lap, and beat Kenseth's
Ford by 1.215 seconds.
Labonte finished third, followed by the Fords of series champion
Dale Jarrett and teammate Ricky Rudd.
"We were happy to come home in the top five," said Labonte,
who leads Ward Burton by 82 points in the standings.
HOW STEWART WON
Every race fan knows the fastest car doesn't always win at Dover. But when the fuel mileage factor became moot thanks to some late-race yellows, Stewart's stout 20 wasn't about to be caught over the final 63 laps. In all, Stewart led 242 laps and was at his best on long runs when he opened up leads of nearly 10 seconds. We all knew it was only a matter of time before this team returned to Victory Lane. Now that Stewart has shaken any perceived "Sophomore Slump," look for the 20 to climb in the points standings.
RUINING THE CURVE
Once again, Stewart and teammate Bobby Labonte ruined Pontiac's aerodynamic disadvantage debate. Granted, Dover Downs isn't about aerodynamics, but it's tough to justify giving the Grand Prix teams any help when one driver lead the points and three of nine Pontiac drivers have won races.
WHAT'S THE POINT
Bobby Labonte's lead grew by 28 points, but the Dales make big moves on second place Ward Burton. Mark Martin took the biggest hit when his engine gave out and he wound up 36th.
1. Bobby Labonte, 1,946
2. Ward Burton, 1,864
3. Dale Earnhardt, 1,848
4. Dale Jarrett, 1,790
5. Mark Martin, 1,755
And Mark Martin thought the month of May was bad. Mark Martin's engine woes forced him out of the race on Lap 268. His 36th-place finish was the fourth straight finish outside the top 10 -- something Martin hadn't done since 1989.
With all the new standards being set by rookies these days, Matt Kenseth nearly set another one in Dover -- winning back-to-back point races. Kenseth stuck his nose under Stewart's bumper on a restart with 13 to go, but didn't have anything for the No. 20 over the final laps. Still, his runner-up finish extended his rookie points lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who turned in a solid 10th-place run. The Monster Mile took its toll on the rest of the freshman, as Mike Bliss (35th), Scott Pruett (38th) Ed Berrier (41st) each hit the wall. Dave Blaney (25th) and Stacy Compton (30th) were at least running at the end.
Like Labonte, who went the final 107 laps last year without a
stop, Jarrett had won in 1998 with a 101-lap run. Knowing he
couldn't outrun those ahead of him, he was going to try it again.
"We were going to try to steal it," he said. "But it wasn't
meant to be.
"The best car won, and that's the way it should be."
Stewart, who led four times, averaged 109.514 mph in a race
slowed by caution 10 times for times for 58 laps -- both records for
400 miles at Dover. There were 14 lead changes among 10 drivers.
Stewart earned $152,830 in the $3.2 million event, and the
victory moved him up a spot in the points race to ninth.
The reaction of the crowd also made him feel good. Stewart,
booed on the last stop of the circuit in Concord, said his position
on NASCAR fans had been misrepresented.
"To have people stand up and cheer, that's much better than the
trophy and the money," he said. "It's literally been hell for me
over what one guy wrote."
Mark Martin, who has won the last three September races at
Dover, blew an engine and finished 36th. He fell two spots to fifth
in the standings.
Jarrett moved from sixth to fourth. Seven-time series champion
Dale Earnhardt, who finished a lap down in sixth, moved up two
spots in the standings to third.
With the victory, Stewart became the 12th driver to win in the
first 13 races. Only rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won twice.
|Tony Stewart took his fourth career checkered flag Sunday at Dover Downs.|| |
Notebook: Hammond remember simpler time in NASCAR
Tony Stewart talks about winning Sunday's MBNA Platinum 400.
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Bobby Labonte talks about making a gamble for the led.
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Matt Kenseth talks about running aganist Tony Stewart.
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