Stewart drives to victory at Watkins Glen
Sunday, August 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) _ Tony Stewart doesn't think Sunday's victory at Watkins Glen International will help cure his emotional problem.
``It's a Band-Aid,'' he said. ``It's not going to heal me a bit.''
Stewart was racing for the first time since being placed on a season-long probation for the second year in a row and fined $60,000 for punching a photographer Aug. 4 at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis. He said he is seeking professional help for his explosive temper.
He was contrite when asked if he felt like a burden had been lifted from him.
``It doesn't lift anything off my shoulders,'' Stewart said. ``It doesn't change anything I did last week. I'm still ashamed of what I did.
``It's been a tough week for all of us. It's that way when you hurt your team and your sponsor.''
But Stewart said he was encouraged almost from the time he arrived this track in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. He said virtually everyone he saw wished him well.
He said the shame of his act caused him to stay out of view of the public _ hiding out most of the time during the week in an Indianapolis motel. He was happy to win, but realizes his problems on the track are minuscule compared to how he feels when he gets out of his car.
``Tomorrow, I'm going back to work to try to get my life back together again,'' he said.
But he had it all together in the race, and his Pontiac was the class of the field over the waning laps on the 2.45-mile road course. Stewart won by 1.636 seconds for his 15th career victory and third this year, matching Matt Kenseth for the most on the Winston Cup circuit.
Stewart hounded rookie Ryan Newman, who took the lead on the 63rd of 90 laps, trying him inside and outside on the serpentine course. Finally, the 31-year-old Stewart made his move on the 10th turn, and completed it on the 11th and final corner on the 72nd lap.
``Tony got me there coming into 10 and I was driving with the mirror the rest of the way,'' Newman said.
Earlier in the race Stewart battled Robby Gordon, who lost his chance to win last year when his in-car telemetry used for television coverage erupted in flames two-thirds of the way through that race.
On the 13th lap, Gordon tried to pass Stewart and they touched. Stewart took the blame.
``I felt bad about hitting him,'' Stewart said. ``I didn't do it intentionally, but I gave him back the position because I didn't want to take it that way. The next time by we waved at each other.''
Stewart got away from Gordon's Chevrolet with a quick restart one-third of the way through the $3.6 million event, and did the same thing to Newman when the green flag waved following caution periods that ended on the 76th and 82nd laps.
He survived one more restart after Kenny Wallace crashed hard into the foam wall on the 87th lap to bring out a race-halting red flag while the barrier was repaired. The race went green for a final lap _ after a delay of 12 minutes, 45 seconds _ but Stewart got the jump and drove away.
``I thought we still had a shot at it, but I wasn't ready for Tony to take off in turn 10,'' Gordon said of the final restart. ``He snookered us there.''
But Stewart rejected the notion that he was jumping the restarts.
``They were laying back trying to get a run at me,'' he said. ``As a driver I did my job, and that's to take away their advantage.
``They can say what they want, but we won it honest.''
Still, Stewart was worried about the restarts because of a fuel pressure problem, and was concerned about not winning because a big lead was taken away by NASCAR's decision to red-flag the race for a final one-lap sprint.
He wasn't alone.
``It seemed like a half an hour,'' crew chief Greg Zipadelli said of the delay. ``I was just hoping we could get one last good restart.''
They did, and Stewart's burst left Newman's Ford to hold off the other pursuers.
Newman, making his first start on a road course, did that easily, and wound up with his fifth straight top-five finish.
Gordon was third. P.J. Jones, in his first start for A.J. Foyt, finished fourth in a Pontiac. Polesitter Ricky Rudd, hoping to tie Jeff Gordon's record with a seventh road-course victory, was fifth in a Ford.
Defending race champion Jeff Gordon, seeking to win for the fifth time in six years on the track, wound up 22nd.
Series leader Sterling Marlin, beset by an engine problem, finished 30th. He leads 10th-place finisher Mark Martin by 53 points in the overall standings.
Stewart led a race-high 34 laps, averaging 76.165 mph in an event slowed for 18 laps by seven caution flags. There were 12 lead changes among nine drivers.
Scott Pruett was sixth, followed by Jeff Burton, Todd Bodine and Michael Waltrip.