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Stewart dominates the Monster Mile
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Tony Stewart was able to overcome the claustrophobic confines of the Monster Mile at Dover Downs by absolutely dominating the field, winning his first race of the year at the MBNA Platinum 400. Stewart and his Joe Gibbs owned Home Depot Pontiac bested the field by 1.2 seconds after a restart with only 6 laps remaining in the contest. Matt Kenseth and his DeWalt Tools Ford finished second with point's leader Bobby Labonte and his Interstate Batteries Pontiac closing quickly in hopes of a 1-2 sweep behind Stewart. Teammates Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd rounded out the top five positions and consequently, the only cars to finish on the lead lap.
It was a picture perfect day for racing at Dover Downs, both for Tony Stewart and the fans. Stewart led for 242 of the 400 laps with the field catching up only during pit stops or cautions. Unfortunately for Stewart, a race record 10 cautions periods for 58 laps slowed the pace of the race to just under 110 miles per hour and kept the field in his mirrors most of the day.
The race started with Rusty Wallace in the lead and Dale Earnhardt Jr. running 2nd. A few laps later the first caution waved when Rick Mast hit the inside wall in turn two. It appeared Steve Park hit the outside wall and rebounded into Mast sending Mast spinning into the inside wall. On the restart Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead only to be passed by Mike Skinner on lap 11. The second caution of the day waved on lap 14 when Jerry Nadeau crashed the Michael Holigan Monte Carlo after tangling with the 21 car of Elliot Sadler. The third caution waved on lap 42 when Mike Bliss spun but was able to avoid other cars and the track wall.
During this caution period Kyle Petty relieved John Andretti, still recovering from a broken rib sustained in the Winston. In an ironic twist of fate, Kyle failed to qualify his own car for the event, but would pilot the STP/General Mills Pontiac home to a 13th place finish. It was the first time since a 1981 Riverside California race that Kyle had driven "the king's" car.
The fourth caution waved when Scott Pruitt hit the wall with a little help from behind. It appeared Dave Blaney gave Pruitt a little nudge in close racing. The restart on lap 75 found Jeremy Mayfield in the front followed closely by Stewart, Skinner and Dale Jr. Another eight laps were run before Ed Berrier running high on the track ran up into the marbles and crashed in turn one bringing out the 5th caution of the day. The restart on lap 89 continued with Mayfield leading Stewart by 8/10th's of a second and followed closely by Skinner. On lap 105 Tony Stewart took the lead from Mayfield as Mayfield struggled with a car that was too tight. By lap 137 there were only 22 teams left running on the lead lap.
This was the first race for new tires introduced by Goodyear and expectations were high before the race but on lap 147 Jeremy Mayfield shredded his right front tire and had to pit. The Goodyear engineers went to work on the shredded tire and recommended an air pressure increase for the Mayfield Taurus. Another handling problem sent Geoffrey Bodine spinning and crashing when he got back on the gas out of turn four. This brought the total laps run under caution up to 37. I expect the new tires will be under close scrutiny after today's race.
At the half way point Tony Stewart was leading over Bobby Labonte, Dale Sr, and Joe Nemecheck with the 43 car driven by Kyle Petty back in the 20th position. By lap 213 Jeremy Mayfield lost his engine and was relegated to a DNF. By lap 250 there were the Pontiac's of Stewart and Labonte followed by the Chevrolet's of Dale Sr and Joe Nemecheck.
The Pontiac teams have claimed the Fords and Chevy's have possessed an aerodynamic advantage but it didn't show in the race today. Tony Stewart showed he had the strongest car today when he put Jeff Gordon a lap down when Gordon was running 15th on lap 228. Labonte grabbed the lead briefly on lap 244 when Stewart pitted but then lost the lead on lap 246 when his pit stop went 16.4 seconds compared to Stewarts 15.5 second stop. By lap 260 Stewart had caught Mike Skinner to put him a lap down while Skinner was running 10th. The 7th caution of the day came out on lap 267 when Mark Martin lost his engine. The 8th caution of the day came on lap 282 when Mike Skinner moved up on the track and rubbed fenders with Rusty Wallace sending Wallace spinning and blowing out his left front tire.
The restart on lap 292 put Dale Sr in the front as he beat Tony Stewart out of the pits by mere inches. Before the restart Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart re-pit for a splash of gas in an attempt to run the remaining 100 miles without a stop. By lap 359 Stewarts crew chief Greg Zipadelli announced they will not make the end of the race on their remaining fuel but on lap 381 Jeff Gordon hit the wall bringing out the 9th caution and providing the stop that Stewart needed.
The race restarted on lap 387 and ran only until lap 390 when Sterling Marlin was sent spinning from a light nudge from Kyle Petty. Sterling was able to drive his car off the track so a restart could happen on lap 394. With just six laps to go Stewart once again showed his dominance by pulling away from Matt Kenseth on the restart. Stewart was able to hold the lead to win the Monster Mile with Kenseth finishing a strong second and Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett battling for 3rd and 4th. Ricky Rudd had a good run today finishing in the 4th spot.
The early cautions included wrecks involving Jerry Nadeau, Ed Berrier, Geoff Bodine, Scott Pruett and Mike Bliss. Later cautions included Rusty Wallace and Mike Skinner tangling, Jeff Gordon losing a right front tire and visiting the wall and Sterling Marlin to set up the 6 lap shoot out. Attrition also was a factor, Jeff Burton lost a transmission, while Michael Waltrip, Jeremy Mayfield and Mark Martin all lost their engines. You have to wonder if those blown engines don't have something to do with Valvoline puling their sponsorship for Martin next year.
After the victory Tony had this to say, "We've needed this, we had a couple of media guys throw us under the bus in some papers, and it really hurt our fan support, and hopefully this will help out a little bit. The fans will know it wasn't true… a lot of things were said that weren't right. Joe Gibbs stood behind me, Home Depot stood behind me, and all these guys behind me. We needed this today".
will allow a spoiler change on the Pontiac's starting next week in
the K-Mart 400 in Michigan. The spoiler change will allow for more
downforce on the rear of the Pontiac and may give those teams a
slight advantage. At first the change will be optional and teams can
decide if they want to trade the speed for handling. Time will tell
if the Pontiac teams hit paydirt.
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