Stewart Completes Dover Sweep
September 24, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
But through it all, it was Tony Stewart taming the monster by scoring the victory to make it a clean sweep of both NASCAR Winston Cup Series races this season at Dover Downs. It was Stewart’s fourth win of the season –- tying him with Rusty Wallace for the most on the circuit -– and seventh of his career.
After needing to take a provisional starting position to make the race, Stewart methodically worked his way through the field on a day when the best drivers in the business were falling by the wayside one at a time. Stewart led a total of 163 laps, including the last 64 following his final pit stop of the afternoon. It was the third time this season that Stewart has led the most laps.
"We had a good car all day long," Stewart said from victory lane. "The guys on this team worked hard all day long. We were loose early and I was getting frustrated because I couldn’t run up front. But these guys kept working on it and tightening the car up. This car was awesome. But I do wish they’d quit messing with the tires and changing them every week. Goodyear is trying to make things safer for us, but I wished they’d leave them alone. I like it the way it is."
His win marks the first time since 1996 that a driver has swept both races at Dover Downs. But afterwards, Stewart tried to downplay his dominance one the concrete mile.
"We really didn’t dominant all day by any means," Stewart said. "Jeff Burton, Jeremy Mayfield and Jerry Nadeau, those three guys were really strong all day long. We were able to keep the pace with them and run the same lap times they were, or within a half a tenth. But every time we got really close to them we were tight. Then we’d get in front of them and we were really loose with a car behind us. It was better for us to just kind of keep things tight and let them go on about their business.
"But the longer a run would go, we’d run them back down. We knew that we had a good car on long runs. It was just a matter of trying to get the balance right to where we could kind of run a little bit better earlier and be able to stay with them at the beginning of a run."
It was also a big day for Stewart’s Joe Gibbs owned team as teammate Bobby Labonte took advantage of misfortune on the part of Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett, who came into the race second and third, to build upon his already large Winston Cup Series points lead. Labonte now leads seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, who moved up from fourth to second, by a season-high 259 points. Jarrett is third, 267 points behind, with Burton only one marker behind him in fourth.
Labonte avoided the disaster that befell Burton and Jarrett to finish fifth, doing the job it takes to maintain his biggest points lead of the 2000 season.
"The chassis was right there at the end, but the driver was tired of chasing it so I quit messing with it because it was the best it had been," Labonte said. "The guys worked hard all day and we adjusted on it right and left, some were right and some were wrong. But I can promise you the ones that were wrong were my decisions. The guys did a good job in the pits and everywhere else. We started 17th and came out of here with a top-five finish, so I’m really proud.
"We could have easily been caught up in something today. We had a good day. We weren’t as fast as we wanted to be, but we were safe."
Rounding out the top-five were Johnny Benson, Ricky Rudd, Steve Park and Labonte. Nine cars finished on the lead lap, those being Mark Martin, Joe Nemechek, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon.
Benson’s runner-up effort equals the best of his career, and he was quite pleased with his outing.
"I’m real proud of these guys and everybody on this team," said Benson, who also finished second in the spring race at Bristol. "They just did a tremendous job today. I thought we had a good shot, but we didn’t. Tony and (crew chief) Greg Zipadelli, everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing did a tremendous job and our guys did a good job too. So we’re happy to come out of here in second place."
For Rudd, his third-place finish continues a strong late season surge by the first-year driver with Robert Yates Racing. He also finished third in the last race at New Hampshire, and extended his streak of top-10s to six straight events.
With about 100 laps to go, it looked as if Rudd might have been he most serious threat to mount a charge on Stewart, that is until a set of tires on his last stop didn’t work like he had hoped.
"We sort of faded there at the end," said Rudd, who maintained the sixth position in the Winston Cup points race. "We just tried to hang on, Steve (Park) was coming, and that was all we could do. The last set of tires, we maybe changed the pressure a little bit too much, and it just didn’t work out. We were just playing defense there at the end."
Rudd admitted that the reason for the air pressure adjustment was to avoid blowing out a right front tire like many of his fellow competitors did.
"We started out good and guys kept popping right-front tires, so we didn’t (want) to get too serious with it," Rudd explained. "I could have run faster on the top of the race track, but tire wear was real bad up there. I think about everybody that was cutting tires were running at the top, so our guys worked hard to try to get the car to run on the bottom of the race track. They did it, but we just didn’t have any grip down there on that last set of tires. I think maybe we went too far."
Despite not being able to get around Rudd for the third position, Park said he would take his fourth place effort and be happy after what was an unusually wild day at Dover.
"We were racing pretty hard for third," Park said. "But Ricky was getting a good run up off the corners. I knew if I didn’t get the pass completed in two or three laps I would overheat my tires. It also enabled Bobby to close in on us. We had to do what we had to do to get by the 28 and we couldn’t do it. We settled for fourth. That’s another top-five finish and that is where we need to be. It was great to get a good run up here."
The drama of the afternoon began early and really never stopped by the race’s end.
It didn’t take long for the day’s first caution flag to fly, lap three to be exact after a tap from Jeff Burton’s Ford caused rookie Mike Bliss to spin and back into the first turn wall. Over the in-car radio, Burton radioed crew chief Frankie Stoddard with a message to tell the Bliss team and crew chief Barry Dodson that he couldn’t get slowed down enough to not make contact.