The Frontstretch: Bad Luck Bug Still Keeping Stewart From Closing The Deal by Thomas Bowles -- Monday May 26, 2008

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Bad Luck Bug Still Keeping Stewart From Closing The Deal

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday May 26, 2008

 

Come Monday morning, Tony Stewart might well be lobbying NASCAR to change the mileage of the Coca-Cola 600.

For if it were the Coca-Cola 595 … Stewart would have won.

Up to that point, the veteran of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable had played his poker hand to perfection. Struggling during the first 300 miles, Stewart spent most of the race’s first half mired in 20th place. But as a veteran team and driver know, it’s not how you handle at the start of this 400-lap marathon; it’s how you handle at the finish, once the sun goes down and nighttime shines on the 1.5-mile oval.

After battling for several laps Sunday night, the race between Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne was decided by a blown tire on the No. 20.

And shine Stewart did once darkness descended on the speedway. Coming to life, he watched from afar as contender after contender fell by the wayside. Brian Vickers led early, then lost a left rear tire and destroyed his Toyota. Teammate Kyle Busch battled alternator problems, while brother Kurt saw an early run go sour after plastering the outside wall. That allowed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to take control … until he smacked the wall with a faulty right rear.

Their carnage continued well into the final 100 laps; and by that point, Stewart was ready to assert himself. Taking the lead for the first time following Junior’s mishap, the No. 20 car was out front for 23 of the final 103 laps of the race. And while friend and fellow contender Kasey Kahne also had his car dialed in, it was Stewart who was better over the course of a long run. Following a flawless pit stop for fuel, the Home Depot Toyota had itself a five and a half second lead with three laps left, poised to pounce on the early season momentum Joe Gibbs Racing has established – through his two other teammates.

Too bad Stewart’s Goodyear Eagles had other plans.

“We got a flat — another tire that wouldn’t hold air,” said crew chief Greg Zipadelli of the late-race nightmare. “It’s just stupid. We must have run something over, or had a small leak.”

Whatever it was, Stewart went from certain victor to innocent victim in the matter of a few short minutes. While Kahne streaked by – ending his 52-race winless streak en route to Victory Lane – Stewart has a streak of his own that remains intact. It’s now 25 races since Stewart took the checkered flag first in the Cup Series, his longest drought in slightly over three years.

“We are a team that has run good most of the year, and haven’t capitalized on it due to circumstances like this and other situations,” said Zipadelli, filling in for his driver as he vented his frustration elsewhere. “I’m so frustrated.”

And he should be; for while there’s no question Stewart is one of the most successful NASCAR drivers of his era, he’s fallen prey to bad luck when it comes to the series’ biggest races. If the old Winston Million were still in play, here’s a stat that might surprise you: Stewart would be an 0-for in each of those four races (for the newer fans, former series sponsor Winston would offer a million-dollar bonus to anyone who could win three of these four — the Daytona 500, Spring Race at Talladega, Coca-Cola 600, and Southern 500 at Darlington — in the same year). Stewart’s struggles at the Daytona 500 are well documented; but he’s also failed to win at Darlington and Talladega during his career, along with falling short in ten Coca-Cola 600s. It’s not like Stewart hasn’t had his chances in any of these events; it’s just that when he does, putting himself in position to win becomes paired with a litany of bad luck.

How this streak will affect Stewart as Spring heads into Summer remains to be seen. After all, June, July, and August is typically when the No. 20 team hits its stride. But while teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin continue to run circles around their competition, the opportunities to sneak a victory in have become fewer and farther between. And should Stewart make his move to go elsewhere for 2009 – which appears to be a few weeks away – it’ll be a distraction that’ll make contending for wins that much more difficult.

All of which made tonight a very important race for Stewart to capitalize on. Instead, it’ll be a very important race for the team to put behind them – and quickly – with the difference between them and 13th place David Ragan just a scant 113 points.

“We knew what we needed,” finished off Zipadelli. “We just fell short.”

And it just goes to show that even in the series’ longest race, every one of its 600 miles is important.

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©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Marc
05/26/2008 10:13 AM
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Thomas, if Daytona were a 495 Dale might still be alive. There are a million ifs and maybes. That is why you have to race the full race, nobody knows what is going to happen.

I thought the 600 was the best race I had seen in a while, lots of racing and lead changes. Exciting stuff for once.

spencer
05/26/2008 03:48 PM
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Cmon Bowles!

I definitely expect more of you. Considering how long you have covered this sport.

Were you even at the race? Stewart took “fuel only” at lap 334—-that’s how he got the lead in the first place from Kahne.
Ask anyone that “Knows” Nascar; (except, apparently, the 20 crew) and they will tell you that stretching the right-sides for 90+ green flag laps is just asking for trouble.

And for you not to mention that in your article is IRRESPONSIBLE!

Tony and Zip can blame GY all they want—-but for this one, they need to only look in the mirror.

Can’t blame them though—-it was their only chance for the win.

Managing Editor
05/26/2008 04:02 PM
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Hi Spencer!

Thanks for commenting, even though you are claiming irresponsibility. Yes, I was at the race, and very much covering it. It’s true Stewart took fuel only on his final stop to take over the point. But he was heading to the front long before that … he took fuel only to MAINTAIN second place, as Jimmie Johnson had the lead for that restart with 66 to go.

You make a good point about Goodyears, but you still miss the overall point of the article. Asking for tires to hold up for 90 laps is similar to asking gas to hold up for 63 … it’s a calculated risk, a gamble you’re making in hopes things will come out in your favor. Remember, the compound at Lowe’s is notorious for being hard the last few years … why, back in 2006, the compound was so rock hard teams were saying they could run 100, 150 laps on their tires with no real problems (this was in response to the levigation / repaving issues that have been around the last few years).

The bottom line is, Stewart needed a little luck to make his strategy work, and it just didn’t happen. That’s what I’m pointing out; and to win the sport’s biggest races, there’s a lot of times plain circumstance just needs to go your way. For better or worse this year, those breaks just haven’t happened for Stewart.

Thanks for writing and reading FS!

spencer
05/26/2008 05:18 PM
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First of all—thanx for replying. But I have a couple of issues with your response.

“Stewart was heading to the front”?—Kahne passed Stewart on lap 312 and built a 2.4 second lead in 25 laps before the caution.

Also, why bother bringing up the tires of a few years ago? This is 2008 with a new car AND tires.

My whole beef with your article is that you get a quote from Zip; and then say “whatever it was”—-not even bothering to mention the fact that he tried to run 90+ laps on right-side tires—that’s where the “irresponsible” comment surfaced.

I feel the same way about drivers who take the fuel gamble and run out with one lap to go—No sympathy. You and I could win races if we didn’t have to stop for fuel or tires.

Face it Tom; the fact is; you’ve published 2 ridiculous articles in a row. First the All-Star one—which you finally even admitted may have been wrong; and now this one—-which is missing one critical piece of info.

Managing Editor
05/26/2008 05:59 PM
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Hey Spencer,

I never admitted my All-Star column was wrong (fans, see http://www.frontstretch.com/tbowles/16697/); I still stand by what I said there, just acknowledged the solid support and great points Kahne’s fans brought up in response.

And I will stand by this column, as well, like I stand by everything I write. You brought up the point of 90+ lap tires, and I appreciate that. But the main theme of the article remains the same … I feel I didn’t need the point of 90+-lap tires to prove the point of bad luck. I respect your differing opinion, but that’s as much as I’ll say in a public forum, because the beauty of racing fans is that everyone has the right to judge what people write, and I think you’ve made your points clear…

Last but not least, I’ve published about 3-4 articles in between these … hopefully, they all haven’t been as ridiculous as you say :O).

Have a good one.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

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