St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports
TampaBay.com
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
tampabay.com

printer version

Stewart happy to finally be on top

Driver overcomes start to lead points race for first time in four-year career.

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 13, 2002


Tony Stewart's Winston Cup title drive has come a long way since it began eight months ago -- on Interstate 95.

The season-opening Daytona 500 was running at full speed when Stewart, whose engine blew after two laps, turned onto the highway entrance ramp for a mind-clearing drive home to Charlotte, N.C. His rank in the standings after one event: last.

With six to go, he is first.

"There was no way I ever could have dreamed, after Daytona, that we would be where we are today," said Stewart, who leads veteran Mark Martin by 72 points. "It just shows that you can't give up."

In his first three Winston Cup seasons, Stewart established a pattern of starting slow and finishing strong. He appeared to turn that around during Speed Weeks 2002, winning the Budweiser Shootout, an IROC race and finishing second in his 125-mile qualifier. But when the engine in his No. 20 Pontiac blew two laps into the Daytona 500, it signaled a familiar beginning.

"When we left Daytona, we were devastated," Stewart said. "We've always known that the first eight races of the year are where we get ourselves at such a deficit that we never can recover from it for the remainder of the season. Starting the first race of the year, leaving there 43rd in the points, it was falling right into that pattern again. To be leading now, we're so excited."

This is the first time in his four-year career Stewart has led. The title chase remains the closest since NASCAR began using the current points system in 1975 -- the top five are separated by 172 -- but Stewart is the new favorite.

Of the six remaining tracks, Stewart has won at four: Martinsville, Atlanta, Phoenix and Homestead. He also has performed well at Lowe's Motor Speedway, site of today's UAW-GM Quality 500. Because qualifying was rained out, Stewart starts from the pole.

"I am excited, looking at the remainder of the schedule and looking at tracks that we're going to and the success that we've had at all of those," he said. "That part is positive. ... We can't really take a lot of time to think about the negatives of it because it's stuff that really isn't in our control."

Earlier this season, Stewart lost control of his temper. Frustrated that he did not win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his home track, Stewart punched a photographer after the race. The outburst cost him $60,000 in fines and landed him on probation with NASCAR and primary sponsor Home Depot.

His team never faltered.

"There have been peaks and a lot of valleys to go through this year and not once has this team ever given up, not once have they ever shown signs of backing down or giving up in any way, shape or form," said Stewart, who has offset seven races in which he failed to finish with three victories and 13 top fives.

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli believes the team's ability to overcome adversity will help it handle the pressure of a close championship battle.

"We have surely ridden that emotional roller coaster as a team this year and in the last three years," said Zipadelli, who also serves as team psychologist and motivator. "So, I think if any team can deal with it, this team can."

Stewart has won championships before, including the 1997 Indy Racing League title. In 1995, he became the only driver to win championships in the U.S. Auto Club's national Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown series in the same season. He will draw on that experience in the next six weeks.

"A Winston Cup championship would definitely be the highlight of my career," he said. "But to me, it's still about basics. The best attitude that we can take going into those six races is, "We've got to win a couple of these.'

"I think I'm just trying to be realistic about the position we're in and trying to keep our focus where it needs to be. As much as we'd like to be celebrating our first chance at leading the Winston Cup point standings, we've got a lot of work to do to try to hold on to that right now."

Back to Sports
Back to Top

© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
Contact the Times | Privacy Policy
Standard of Accuracy | Terms, Conditions & Copyright
 

From the Times sports desk

College football
  • This 1 left
  • Bulls prove to be ready for prime-time players
  • Tigers keep Gators reeling
  • Orangemen honor deceased tackle
  • Around the state: Golden Knights break into win column in MAC
  • Hybl has tough day in victory
  • Sooners stage comeback to beat Longhorns again
  • Big 12: Buff runs for 309 in win over Kansas
  • C-USA: Second quarter sparks Tulane over Cincinnati
  • Crowd's cheers lift Bulls
  • Despite early frustrations, Dorsey keeps composure
  • 'Canes leave win to fate
  • Jones-led ground attack sustains Seminoles until fourth
  • FSU Quotebook
  • Miami Quotebook
  • ACC: Injured tailback keeps N.C. State unbeaten
  • Big East: Pitt moves but can't score enough on ND
  • Big Ten: Michigan keeps Penn State searching for answers
  • SEC: Dawgs edge closer to SEC goal
  • Pac-10: Ducks outgun Bruins to remain undefeated
  • Gators continue one trend, Tigers end another
  • Called on to carry club, UF defense falls flat

  • NFL
  • NFL Game Day: Week 6
  • Injuries, defense hurt Bears

  • Baseball
  • Giants miss a chance to gain a stranglehold
  • Angels within a win of first World Series berth
  • Thome waits for an offer from Indians
  • Yankees are hoping to build on (insert smirk) early playoff exit
  • NLCS: Benes has new view after injury
  • ALCS: Mays just sticks with strengths

  • NHL
  • Panthers earn win with 10.2 left in OT
  • NHL Slapshots

  • NBA
  • Miami stops Orlando in final minutes

  • Sailing
  • Round-robin 1: a few surprises

  • Gary Shelton
    Gary Shelton
    Gary Shelton
    Gary Shelton
    Motorsports
  • Stewart happy to finally be on top

  • Et cetera
  • Highs & lows
  • Sports briefs

  • Preps
  • Santa Fe overwhelms IRC
  • Plant quiets nemesis with two-game win
  • Big kicks decide races in favor of Raider, Shark
  • Believe the hype: Kerry Allen is fast
  • Amerman emerges and Lyons cruises

  • Outdoors
  • Daily fishing report: Tournament insider

  • Letters
  • Series with no Yankees incomplete

  • Rays
  • Piniella starts the ball rolling

  • Bucs
  • Winning Bucs stick to routines
  • Receivers take similar route
  • Chucky's Chalk Talk
  • He's big on Predator, short on planes
  • High Profile -- Anthony Henry
  • Sideline

  • Letters
  • Hey, Chucky, climb aboard the A-Train

  • Lightning
  • Another smashing victory
  • Fedotenko makes Lightning look good
  • Dingman defends penalty minutes


  • From the wire

    From the state sports wire
  • Jacksonville's Spicer placed on IR after leg surgery
  • FIU-Western Kentucky game postponed because of Jeanne
  • Brown anxious to face old team for first time
  • Dolphins' desperate defense readies for Roethlisberger
  • Former Sarasota lineman sheds tough-guy image with Michigan
  • Rothstein rejoins Heat as assistant
  • No. 16 Florida has history on its side against Kentucky
  • FSU and Clemson QBs both off to slow starts