Originally created 05/06/02

Stewart wins at Richmond



RICHMOND, Va. - Tony Stewart complained about the way his car drove during the first 66 laps of the Pontiac Excitement 400 on Saturday.

And the complaining continued during most of Sunday's conclusion and involved a variety of issues, including his car and the conditions created by a new sealer.

In fact, the only time Stewart wasn't complaining was when he was in Victory Lane.

His Joe Gibbs Racing team changed an engine after Friday's qualifying session, forcing him to give up his third-place spot on the starting grid for a spot in the back. He not only worked his way through the traffic, he dodged all the wrecks that sent three different leaders to the garage area.

"Greg Zipadelli (crew chief) won this race," Stewart said after piloting his Pontiac through the carnage of 14 caution periods at the slippery Richmond International Raceway. "I don't want a big pat on the back for saying that I started last (and won). Greg deserves that pat on the back, not me.

"I was down (Saturday) night and I was down after the first 50 laps (Sunday). But the guys kept digging and I couldn't give up on them. The guys on this crew really worked hard all day. I never would have dreamed we could have got up here today."

Zipadelli kept making changes to the car and Stewart kept avoiding the wrecks. He started 41st and was 27th when the rains returned late Saturday. The continued his slow, meticulous march Sunday and with only 28 laps remaining, he muscled his way past rookie Ryan Newman for a lead he never returned.

It was Stewart's 14th career win and his third at the three-quarter mile speedway at Richmond in six starts. He earned $185,653.

The lead proved to be a hazardous place until Stewart took his turn out front.

The pole-sitter, Ward Burton, led 125 laps then coasted into the garage area with a broken transmission.

Ricky Rudd led 90 laps before getting turned into the second turn wall as he lapped Rusty Wallace.

"Something happened to the 2 car (Wallace)," Rudd said. "He had a tire go down or something, but I think it happened to him coming off Turn 4 and he went down the straightaway. I cleared him. I drove around him on the outside and he changed about three lanes of race track. I know he didn't do it on purpose, but he knew he had a flat tire so he should have slowed down enough where he didn't change three lanes of race track.

"He hit us in the quarter panel and it was over with us."

Then it was Jimmy Spencer's turn to lead. He led twice for a total of 75 laps, but he had to slam on the brakes to keep from crashing with rookie Jimmie Johnson as he made a daring move for the lead in the third turn. Johnson crashed; Spencer fell back to fifth and out of contention; and another rookie, Ryan Newman shot into the lead.

Newman stayed there for 46 laps until Stewart made his move with 28 laps to go.

"There were a lot of guys that were being very courteous, a lot of give and take going on out there," Stewart said. "And then there were a lot of guys that were in a big hurry, and it seemed like the guys that got in a hurry, sure enough, as time went on they were dropping out like flies. The guys that seemed to be a little more patient were the guys that were around at the end."

Newman held on for second place.

Stewart, who averaged 86.824 mph after 103 of 400 laps were run under caution, said he found the kind of speed necessary to start in the back and win by allowing Zipadelli to fix the car and by not trying to do too much too fast.

"I probably ran one of the most patient races I've ever run," Stewart said. "It wasn't because I wanted to, it was because I had to. When my car got tight, it was easy to make your problem even worse. It was a matter of trying to ride it out until we got an opportunity to work on it some more."

The Winston Cup Series will be off next weekend, then return to the Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., for The Winston all-star race on May 18. As a winner, Stewart qualifies for the winners-only race.

The next official race is the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26, also at Lowe's.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.