Originally created 09/25/00

Stewart sweeps Dover



DOVER, Del. -- Tony Stewart doesn't think he should be considered the master of The Monster Mile.

He made that argument after winning the MBNA.com 400 Sunday, taking both races this season at one of NASCAR's toughest tracks.

"We win two races and all of a sudden we're dominating?" Stewart asked. "We really weren't dominant all day by any means."

But there certainly was a good reason for his victory.

"The car was the best at the end, a time of the race when we really needed it," Stewart said.

He became the first to double since Jeff Gordon won twice in 1996 at Dover Downs International Speedway. It was the seventh sweep since the track opened in 1969.

This victory was especially impressive because Stewart had problems getting up to speed early in the weekend and started 27th in a field of 43. In June, when he won the MBNA Platinum 400, the driver from Rushville, Ind., started 16th.

Stewart downplayed the importance of starting first.

"Poles are nice, but you get to take the picture with the big trophy on Sunday," he said. "We know we run good on Sunday, and we're putting an emphasis on winning races."

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli is confident that they will continue to do just that in the coming years.

"We battled back and got the car back to where it was last three times," he said of Stewart's previous runs at Dover. "When he gets on rhythm, I don't think anybody is better out there."

Still, he was talking to his driver on the radio, urging him forward but with a sense of caution. Later, Stewart laughed at that.

"I think he was trying to calm himself down," he said of his crew chief. "I said, "If I go any slower the car's going to fire me."'

Stewart ended the run of three straight wins in this race by Mark Martin, who had a transmission problem and wound up sixth. He was one of several drivers to have problems.

Stewart led 163 of the 400 laps, including the last 54. In June, he led 242.

"We were just kind of taking it easy, taking care of the car, trying to stay out of trouble," he said. "It was the same car we ran in the spring and at Bristol. It works really good on concrete tracks."

The last time out with it, Stewart finished second in Bristol, Tenn.

Stewart gave up the lead when he pitted under green on lap 343, but went back in front for good four laps later.

The win ended an eight-race losing streak for the 1999 Winston Cup rookie of the year. It was his fourth win this year -- tying him with Rusty Wallace for the series lead -- and seventh in the career of the one-time Indy Racing League champion.

Jeff Burton, who led every lap a week earlier while winning in Loudon, N.H., and Jerry Nadeau were among those who had the look of winners. But they fell out with blown tires. At least five cars left the race that way.

"How can you beat Goodyear?" asked Tony Furr, Nadeau's crew chief. "If I brought a car to the race track that was that bad, I'd be fired. It was just a junky tire."

Stewart also thought the tires were too much of a factor.

"I wish they'd quit messing with them," he said. "When they keep changing, it makes it tough on everybody."

Zipadelli admitted the race was a bit nerve-racking, but said he was never concerned about Stewart having a problem.

"We seem to be very conservative in that area at most race tracks," Zipadelli said. "We'll finish second or fifth before we take a chance on ruining a race car or hurting a driver."

It was a profitable day for Stewart's teammate, Bobby Labonte, whose lead in the series standings grew to a season-high 249 points when he finished fourth. Burton and reigning Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett, who crashed early in the race, were the biggest losers.

Their troubles allowed seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt to move into second place with a finish of 17th. Jarrett finished 32nd to remain third, 267 points back. Burton wound up 36th and fell to fourth in the title race, a point behind Jarrett.

Stewart's Pontiac beat Johnny Benson's by 6.752 seconds for his seventh career victory. He earned $158,535 from a purse of $3 million.

"Tony was just a little too tough, which is OK," said Benson, who matched a career best with his finish. "We'll take second and get out of here."

The winner averaged 115.191 mph in a race slowed eight times by 45 laps of caution. There were 25 lead changes among 13 drivers.

Third was the Ford of Ricky Rudd, a four-time winner.

"We were just playing defense there at the end," he said. "I could run faster, but the tire wear was pretty bad."

Fourth in a Chevrolet was Steve Park followed by the Pontiac of Labonte. After Martin came Joe Nemechek, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon.

Polesitter Jeremy Mayfield had an engine problem and finished 35th.