Flashback: Stewart's Homestead Double

Tony Stewart 2000

“We had a car that was just bad fast,” Stewart told MRN pit reporter Winston Kelley in Victory Lane. (Photo: Getty Images)

As this year’s razor-close Sprint Cup Championship battle between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart heads toward its conclusion this weekend, much is being made about Edwards winning two of the last three races held at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Before you use that fact to engrave Edwards’ name on the trophy before the checkered flag of Sunday’s Ford 400, a trip back through the Homestead history book might be in order.

Just how tough is it for a single driver to win the first two races held by NASCAR’s top series at a particular track? The record book indicates it’s happened only four times at the 23 different tracks holding places on the current 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.

Inaugural NASCAR Hall Of Fame member Richard Petty holds the distinction of winning the first two points-paying races at what was then known as Dover Downs International Speedway. Petty won Dover’s inaugural 300-mile Grand National race in 1969, and backed it up with a 1970 victory before the track lengthened their races from 300 to 500 miles just before the dawn of NASCAR’s “modern era”. It would be three decades before it would happen again.

Homestead-Miami Speedway opened its gates in 1995, but the NASCAR Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) tour did not make its first appearance on the South Florida track until four years later. Its inaugural Cup race was the Pennzoil 400, the next-to-last race of the 1999 season.

The 1999 season marked the arrival of a 28-year-old rookie from Indiana, making the move to NASCAR two years after winning the Indy Racing League championship. Tony Stewart was Joe Gibbs’ choice as driver when the legendary coach decided to make his NASCAR team a two-car operation. The team’s first win together came at Richmond in September.

Stewart’s No.20 Home Depot Pontiac came to South Florida riding the momentum from a win the previous weekend in Phoenix. He led four times, including the final eleven laps, on way to becoming the first Cup Series winner at Homestead, and the first driver to win three races in his rookie season.

Fast forward one year. The 2000 Pennzoil 400 once again held the 33rd spot on a 34-race Cup schedule, and there was plenty on the line for Joe Gibbs Racing. Stewart had already turned in five victories in the season heading up to Homestead, where he had a chance to make sure that his name was the only one on a Homestead winner’s trophy. Meanwhile, his JGR teammate, Bobby Labonte, was carrying a 200-plus Winston Cup points lead into the next to last race.

Stewart qualified his Pontiac 13th and managed to make his way to the lead for the first time on Lap 53. He spent the remainder of the day swapping the lead with Ricky Rudd and Labonte.

Stewart took the lead for the final time on the restart following the third caution of the day and began driving away from the field. Although the field was bunched up once more by caution, Stewart reached the finish line 4 ½ seconds ahead of Jeremy Mayfield’s Ford, securing his second straight Homestead win three decades after Petty’s similar performance at Dover.

“We had a car that was just bad fast,” Stewart told MRN pit reporter Winston Kelley in Victory Lane. “There were a couple of times we should have lost it with a couple of lapped cars. For Bobby to win the championship we couldn’t be prouder of him. It was a special weekend for us.

“I feel bad for Ricky (Rudd) again. He had a little bit of help getting moved up out of the groove by a lapped car, but he still did a great job. I don’t know what happened to him at the end. The 12 car (Mayfield) was really quick but (Rudd) kept us honest all day. I’m proud of him and his team. They’re going to be championship contenders themselves next year.”

Labonte led only two laps all day, but his fourth place finish was enough to lock up his first Cup Series championship and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It feels great,” Labonte told MRN’s Jim Phillips during the post-race championship celebration. “It’s an awesome feeling. Yesterday, we weren’t running that good. I just kind of hoped and prayed last night that we would be able to get it right (today). We worked hard on the setup this morning and went back to a lot of old things we used last year. We weren’t as good as Tony. I congratulate those guys, but we stood tough and stood tall there for most of the day and fought it. That’s what it’s all about.”

After taking the first two Homestead-Miami winner trophies, Stewart’s turn to hoist his first Winston Cup would come at the same track two years later. His backed up his 2002 title with a second in 2005, giving Gibbs three championships in six years. Together, they were the last people not named Jimmie Johnson and Rick Hendrick to share NASCAR’s ultimate honor. On Sunday afternoon, we’ll find out if Stewart can place matching bookends around Johnson’s historic five-year run>

This week’s championship edition of MRN Flashback Friday turns the spotlight on Stewart’s second win at Homestead. As they will do for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend, Barney Hall and Joe Moore led the MRN coverage team for the 2000 Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. You can hear all the action unfold beginning at Noon (ET) Friday, exclusively on MotorRacingNetwork.com.

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