Originally created 07/13/01

Stewart apologizes for Daytona outburst



JOLIET, Ill. -- Tony Stewart, who will spend the rest of the Winston Cup season on probation after an angry outburst following the Pepsi 400, issued a formal apology on Thursday.

Stewart was fined $10,000 and had his probation extended to Nov. 21 - the day of the season-finale in Atlanta - after separate blowups with a Winston Cup official and a reporter in the aftermath of the race last Saturday night.

Stewart was already on probation through August for spinning out Jeff Gordon on pit road earlier this season. Any further flareups could lead to punishments ranging from suspension to loss of championship points.

NASCAR had black-flagged Stewart for driving below the yellow line on the Daytona track, which drivers had been warned against during their prerace meeting. The driver ignored the call into the pits because he believed he had been forced below the line by a pack of cars running four-wide.

After the race, he headed toward the NASCAR hauler to argue his case. When a reporter approached him to ask a question, Stewart slapped his tape recorder out of his hands and kicked it under a nearby hauler.

At NASCAR's trailer he confronted Winston Cup director Gary Nelson and had to be restrained by car owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Greg Zipadelli.

After a 90-minute review, the sanctioning body moved Stewart's official finishing order from sixth to 26th, a decision that cost him 65 points in the standings and left him fourth, trailing leader Gordon by 201 heading into Sunday's Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

In its ruling Wednesday, NASCAR called Stewart's post-race behavior "detrimental to stock car racing" and ordered him to formally apologize to racing fans and the reporter, Mike Mulhern of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal.

In his statement Thursday, Stewart said, "While I still disagree with the black flag penalty our team received prior to the finish of the Pepsi 400, I accept the fine and probation that NASCAR has issued to me as a result of my post-race conduct.

"Specifically, my treatment of reporter Mike Mulhern and Gary Nelson of NASCAR was inappropriate, and for that I apologize. By the time the first practice session gets underway Thursday at Chicagoland Speedway, I'll have met with Mike and I'll have apologized to him face to face. I will look for the same opportunity with Gary Nelson as well.

"For others I may have offended following the race, I regret that also. I will continue to work with all those people who support me on handling these types of situations better in the future."

Stewart added: "We've got a race this weekend in Joliet and that's what we're focusing on now. As frustrating as Daytona was for our race team, we're moving on and putting the past behind us."

SWEET HOME CHICAGO: The Tropicana 400 is the first NASCAR Winston Cup race at the new Chicagoland Speedway and the first of two races televised by NBC from brand new tracks in Metropolitan areas measured in Nielsen's overnight ratings.

The other will be Sept. 30 from Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas.

Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports chairman, said, "We really believe the continued growth potential of this sport was unique compared to all other sports.This is the only sport in American history, from a business point of view, that started out in one corner of the country and then grew out to the rest of the country.

"We're in Chicago for the first time, which is stunning, considering that Chicago has been a centerpiece of almost every other sport. It is a testament to the strong growth potential of NASCAR to move into a traditionally strong sports town such as Chicago. Elements of NBC's NASCAR broadcasts over the weekend will focus on the tradition of Chicago as a hotbed of sports."

ANOTHER SHOT: Robby Gordon, who has bounced from ride to ride in NASCAR's Winston Cup Series, may be the permanent replacement for Mike Wallace in Jim Smith's No. 7 Ford.

Gordon, who drove Smith's entry to a runner-up finish three weeks ago on the road course in Sonoma, Calif., has replaced Wallace - 10th in the Pepsi 400 - in the cockpit of the Taurus for Sunday's race at the new Joliet track.

The announcement that Gordon would drive on the new 1.5-mile tri-oval left Wallace, 38th in the season points, in limbo.

"We're in contractual agreements with Mike Wallace, Robby Gordon and NationsRent and we're trying to put it all together right now," Smith said Thursday. "I'm proud of both drivers the last couple of weeks. This team is starting to come alive.

"We hope to make a formal announcement and this carousel ride will be over shortly. Robby and I have a relationship that goes back to when he was 13 years old. I saw him win his first race.

"We're having fun right now," Smith added, "and I intend to have a lot more fun."

SPARK PLUGS: The last four inaugural races on the Winston Cup circuit have been won by different drivers. Jeff Burton won at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997, Jeff Gordon at California Speedway the same year, Mark Martin at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1998 and Stewart at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1999. ... Of the 12 drivers who have competed in all eight inaugural races in Winston Cup since 1988, only nine can make the field for Sunday's race. Dale Earnhardt is deceased, Darrell Waltrip retired and Geoffrey Bodine is currently without a ride. The active drivers are Brett Bodine, Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Terry Labonte, Sterling Marlin, Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Ken Schrader and Rusty Wallace.