tampabay.com

Stewart thrives in qualifying

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published July 2, 2005


DAYTONA BEACH - Coming off a win Sunday, Tony Stewart energized the crowd during qualifying for today's Pepsi 400, taking the pole on Friday.

He looks to pick up his first win at Daytona and his first restrictor-plate victory after five second-place finishes, four at Talladega.

"There's a lot to be said for momentum," said Stewart, who was second at the restrictor-plate race at Talladega this season and seventh at the Daytona 500.

Though Stewart qualified at 185.582 mph for his first pole at Daytona, he didn't embrace the notion that a top speed guarantees success in the Pepsi 400, or even that it - combined with his recent finishes at Daytona and Talladega - brings him level with the teams that have excelled at restrictor-plate races.

"I don't know if that puts us an equal," Stewart said. "We've been close anyways. If you look at where Jeff (Gordon) qualified (15th), I'm sure he's not going to race there (tonight). I doubt this is a true indication of how everybody's going to race. I still think that handling is going to be a big factor.

Still, Stewart should be the favorite, with his finish at Sonoma and a second at Michigan the week before that.

"I got to run behind Tony a little bit (in practice) and he seemed very strong," said Jimmie Johnson, who qualified third. "Tony is one of the better plate racers out there and has been runnerup a couple of times. He's definitely one of four or five that are going to be tough (tonight).

Stewart may believe in momentum, but said it's impossible to draw conclusions from his two previous races because tonight's race is the last of three on three different types of tracks.

"At Michigan we finally hit on some new stuff that may have closed the gap on the Hendrick and Roush teams ... but last week we go to a road course so you can pretty much throw that out of the equation," Stewart said.

" ... Last week and this week are just two odd weeks that really don't fit into the picture or the scheme of things."

Stewart also downplayed an incident with a fan this week: "It's a pretty petty deal," he said. "It's not something that we're even worried about. We've discarded it already."

He allegedly yelled and cursed at a fan after she slowed him up entering a tunnel to the speedway. Pamela Williams, of Hobe Sound, said Stewart was flashing his headlights behind her as they entered the track infield.

"I stuck my hand out and made a motion to slow down and this guy raced around me and slammed on his brakes," Williams told The Daytona Beach News-Journal . "He jumps out and started walking toward me - angry and irritated - like road rage."

Several track workers corroborated her story. Stewart told the paper that the woman gestured for him to pass, then made an obscene gesture toward him as he drove by.