Short Of Expectations

DOVER, Del. - A sixth-place finish in any type of race car at Dover International Speedway is a solid and respectable achievement, but after two wins, nine top-fives and now 11 top-10 results in his NASCAR Nextel Cup Series career at Dover International Speedway, Tony Stewart expects more.

The ever-competitive driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet was far from thrilled with his sixth-place effort in Sunday's MBNA America 400 at Dover's high-banked, 1-mile oval. Part of his frustration stemmed from having an ill-handling race car, while another part came via Robby Gordon.

Gordon, who intentionally spun Greg Biffle last Sunday at New Hampshire to trigger a multi-car accident that consumed Stewart, again used questionable judgment at Dover. On a lap 22 restart, Gordon inexplicably drove his car to the outside of Stewart in turns three and four before officially taking the green. And when Gordon ran out of race track while coming off turn four, he clipped the right front corner of Stewart's nose, altering the No. 20's aerodynamics. With 378 laps still remaining, it was a case of premature aggression.

Stewart quickly put the incident and Gordon behind him with a convincing pass through turns one and two. And throughout the race Gordon would remain in Stewart's rearview mirror, as he wound up finishing 30th, 15 laps off the pace.

It was definitely better that way, for Stewart was preoccupied with an ill-handling race car. His Home Depot Chevrolet was just too tight, which kept him mired in his 23rd place starting spot.

But crew chief Greg Zipadelli continually coached his driver while making several adjustments on each and every pit stop. They stayed on the lead lap while others dropped off, climbing to 15th by lap 126. And when Zipadelli finally hit on a combination of changes that aided The Home Depot Chevrolet, Stewart was in position to take advantage.

It happened following a green flag pit stop on lap 261, where a round of wedge out of the right rear and significant air pressure adjustments gave Stewart a car that was just as good as the leaders. Running lap times that were consistently seven-tenths of a second quicker than the leader, Stewart surged forward, cracking the top-10 on lap 290 and the top-five on lap 321.

But race leader Ryan Newman had been dominant all day, and despite Stewart's newfound competitiveness, Newman was just a half straightaway from lapping him. If Stewart were to have any chance of catching Newman, he needed a caution.

That caution came on lap 327. With the yellow flag waving for debris, Stewart and the rest of the leaders made their last pit stops. Stewart emerged from the pits in sixth, and for the first time all day, could see the leader ahead of him.

But as much as the caution helped Stewart make up ground on Newman, it hurt his chances of mounting any serious charge. The Home Depot Chevrolet performed best on long, green flag runs when everyone's tires were worn out and their cars were sliding around. When the race returned to green on lap 335, Stewart didn't get the restart he wanted. Lapped cars got between Stewart and fifth-place Biffle, while Newman and the rest of the top-five motored ahead on a clear race track.

Stewart's tight handling condition returned, and despite gaining fifth-place when Biffle had to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 342, he had to give it up just a short time later. A resurgent Dale Jarrett was noticeably faster than Stewart, and on lap 359 he overtook the fifth spot, dropping Stewart to sixth.

"It could've been worse because the car was much worse all day," said Stewart from the lounge of the team's transporter. "But the guys kept working on it and we kept battling back and we finished sixth."

Stewart also expressed his emotions on the lap 22 incident with Gordon after the race.

"I feel like kicking Robby's butt to be honest," said Stewart. "It's racing. We'll get 'em back next week."

The finish dropped Stewart to ninth in the championship point standings, 135 points arrears new series leader Jeff Gordon.

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