Monday, June 9, 2003

Stewart cannot be stopped this time


Winston Cup champion wins at Pocono

The Associated Press

LONG POND, Pa. - Tony Stewart was dominant for the third week in a row Sunday, but this time his effort and fast work by his crew carried him to Victory Circle at Pocono Raceway.

Stewart was in control in each of his last two races. But he had an engine problem two weeks ago at Lowe's Motor Speedway, then lost at Dover International Speedway after NASCAR imposed a one-lap penalty for stopping slightly out of his stall on pit road.

But the Winston Cup champ got his first victory of the season Sunday in the Pocono 500. It ended the longest drought in his career at 27.

"We finally got the monkey off our back," Stewart said. "I never thought I'd appreciate my first win of the year so much."

He ran strong throughout the race, and took the lead on the 156th lap, one lap after coming to pit road in third position. He left with the lead after his crew outworked those of leader Sterling Marlin and Matt Kenseth.

Stewart took the lead for the final time with 11 laps left when Todd Bodine and Jeremy Mayfield pitted, but got a bad break when Kurt Busch blew a tire to bring out a caution flag with eight to go.

Stewart's Chevrolet led Mark Martin's Ford when the green flag waved for the final three laps and beat him back to the line by five car lengths after Terry Labonte spun out Jeff Green to end the $4.2 million race under caution. Mike Skinner also wrecked on the final lap. "We know how to lead, we just haven't been able to finish them off," Stewart said. "We've been on a great tear."

Stewart's 16th win was his first since he won last August in Watkins Glen, N.Y. It also was his first on the mountaintop, where he has eight top-10 finishes in nine starts.

"We just have to keep doing what we've been doing," he said as his team rejoiced. "We just kept our chins up, and here we are."

Stewart started fourth and led 37 of 200 laps on the 2 1/2-mile triangular track.

"It's been a long hard year for all of us," car owner Joe Gibbs said. "Tony's had a good car week in and week out. It shows you how hard this sport is."

Stewart began his celebration before he took the green flag, pushing the pace car around near the end of the final lap. "We should have been here a couple of weeks ago, but this was worth it," crew chief Greg Zipadelli said.

Martin was happy with his best finish of the season.

"Tony was great, but we were, too," Martin said. "If anything went wrong for him we were going to be all over him."

Series leader Matt Kenseth finished third in a Ford, followed by the Chevy of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Dodge of Ryan Newman, who won a week ago in Dover. Kenseth leads second-place Earnhardt by 176 points after 14 of 36 races,

"It was a great finish for us," said Kenseth, who recovered after falling back at one point when his car stalled on pit road. "We had a good car all day for the long runs."

The winner's average speed was 134.892 mph in race slowed for 25 laps by five caution flags. There were 28 lead changes among 16 drivers.




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