By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 13, 2000
HOMESTEAD -- Tony Stewart said a $1.50 bag of ice helped him win the Pennzoil 400 on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Stewart, who is claustrophobic, was feeling the effects of warm temperatures and long stretches of green-flag racing when he began to panic midway through the race.
Thanks to crew chief Greg Zipadelli, Stewart recovered to win his sixth race of the season, two more than any other driver.
"(Zipadelli) did a good job keeping me calm during that period and as soon as we came in for the last two pit stops, I was surprised to see a bag of ice come in the window," a noticeably pale Stewart said afterward.
"In my opinion that won us the race because I wasn't going to make it the way I was going. But they got the ice in there and it filled up the whole seat and once they did that I was able to cool down a little bit and was able to calm down."
DASHED TITLE HOPES: Dale Earnhardt's bid for a record eighth Winston Cup championship ended with a 20th-place finish.
The 49-year-old driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet started 37th and finished three laps down.
"Congratulations to Bobby," said Earnhardt, who dropped to third in the standings behind Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton. "They ran great all year long and we just couldn't ever come up with enough to do anything with them. We fell short at several racetracks." SLEEP WALK: Presented with a chance to complain about the lack of passing (15 lead changes), most drivers deferred.
The slightly-banked turns at the 1.5-mile track offer only one racing groove and make passing difficult. Seven drivers led at least one lap.
"I know that it's a good place to race, a good track," said Jeremy Mayfield, who finished second for the third time in five races. "But I'm not sure what they're going to do to put on a more exciting show here."
NO MORE TEARS: Clinching his first Winston Cup championship meant a lot to Labonte.
It meant joining his brother, Terry, as a champion. It meant becoming the 24th different driver to win a title. But it didn't bring him to tears, especially not when he was presented with a $3-million check.
"You don't tear up, man, you jump for joy," Labonte said. "I don't know about you -- I'm not crying. Did you see that check? If it was minus $3-million, I'd say I'd be crying."
BACK AT THE TRACK: NASCAR president Bill France Jr., who is recovering from chemotherapy and a neuromuscular disease, attended.
The 67-year-old, who has headed NASCAR since 1972, met with drivers and car owners before the race and stayed for half of the event.
"It was a great thrill to be back at the track and see a race in person after watching it on television for most of the season," France said. "I consider being at the track today a major step in my recovery."
PIT NOTES: There were four cautions during the race. The first came on Lap 25 when PPI Motorsports teammates Andy Houston and Scott Pruett wrecked each other in Turn 3. Neither was injured. ... Pole-sitter Steve Park finished eighth, his ninth top-10 finish in the last 13 races. ... Casey Atwood finished 10th, one spot behind fellow rookie Dave Blaney.
B Labonte 4,970
J. Burton 4,709
D. Earnhardt 4,690
D. Jarrett 4,561
T. Stewart 4,521
R. Rudd 4,484
R. Wallace 4,398
M. Martin 4,362
J. Gordon 4,196
W. Burton 3,982
Standings are unofficial. NASCAR releases official standings today.