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Another Strong Chicagoland Run for Stewart

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JOLIET, Ill.

Home Depot Driver Finishes Fifth in USG Sheetrock 400
Tony Stewart may have started Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway from the 43rd and last position, but he ended the 267-lap race 38 spots better. The pilot of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet drove to a solid fifth-place finish in his fifth career start at the 1.5-mile oval, just two days after wrecking his primary car in practice. The impact with the turn four wall was hard enough to send Stewart to the hospital for precautionary X-rays, all of which came back negative. J.J. Yeley, Joe Gibbs Racing's NASCAR Busch Series driver, served in the relief role, qualifying the #20 machine a respectable 13th. But with Stewart taking the helm for the race, NASCAR rules stipulated that he had to start at the back of the field. Despite some lingering soreness, Stewart relished the challenge of taking his backup race car through the field. "It's not the first time I've ever been hurt in a race car," said Stewart. "Nobody wants to start 43rd. I guess everybody thinks that would be a setback. But the way we set our program up, it's not a setback at all. That's the great thing about our organization. We've got enough good people and good cars that the backup was just as good as the one we had Friday. Today, we just went out and did our job." The job put forth by The Home Depot Racing Team was exhibited on the scoring monitor. By lap 25 Stewart was 25th, and by lap 47 he was 20th. He cracked the top-15 by lap 60, and following a restart on lap 85, he broke into the top-10 by passing three cars to take eighth. Stewart rose to fourth by lap 114 and stayed there for much of the race as the cars of Matt Kenseth, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch had a stranglehold of the top-three. But with a quick pit stop while under caution on lap 165, Stewart rose to third when his pit crew got him out ahead of Busch. Busch took back the spot on the ensuing restart, but Stewart got third back as Vickers, who had been second, dropped to fourth. Pit strategy came into play with less than 85 laps remaining. A caution on lap 183 gave everyone a chance to come to pit road if they so desired. Leader Kenseth, second-place Busch and third-place Stewart all stayed out, while those behind the trio came to pit road for four tires and fuel. At first it seemed as though Kenseth, Busch and Stewart would be sitting ducks when the race restarted, as conventional wisdom would have their older, race-worn tires as no match for the fresh rubber garnered by their pursuers. But the conventional wisdom was wrong. Quick pit work by the #20 team picked up another position for Stewart on pit road. He restarted in second on lap 188 behind Kenseth. Despite being on old tires and being chased by those with fresh tires, Stewart and Kenseth not only held their own, but pulled away from the rest of the field. Another caution on lap 215 brought parity back to the race, as everyone, including those who had pitted earlier, came to pit lane for service. Kenseth and Stewart were now on the same pit sequence as everyone else, only they had the best track position. When the race restarted on lap 221, Kenseth and Stewart again distanced themselves from the field. And with less than 25 laps remaining, it appeared that the USG Sheetrock 400 would come down to Kenseth and Stewart. But a caution on lap 244 jumbled those thoughts. With each team set to go the distance on fuel, the new question was to pit or not to pit. Four fresh tires could give one the necessary grip needed to make a charge to the front, but any track position lost from pitting might not be recouped. It's moments like these that put crew chiefs on the hot seat, where the general feeling is, damned if you do, damned if you don't. Greg Zipadelli, crew chief for Stewart, opted to pit for four tires. Only Robbie Reiser, crew chief for Kenseth, followed the same strategy. One team didn't pit while seven other teams took only two tires, putting Kenseth and Stewart ninth and 10th, respectively, when the race restarted on lap 249. Scott Wimmer was the lone driver not to pit. He led the field to green, but it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind him, the first in the line of seven who took only two tires. Wimmer quickly dropped anchor, while Earnhardt assumed the point. Stewart, meanwhile, clawed his way to fifth. To Earnhardt's elation and to Stewart's dismay, time soon ran out. "We had an awesome car today. We probably gave up a win or a second-place run, but I'm really happy," said Stewart, who maintained his third-place point standing, 151 points arrears series leader Jimmie Johnson. "To have crashed the car on Friday and be as sore as I was this morning when I got up, the crew did an awesome job. I've got to thank J.J. (Yeley) for coming in and riding this thing on Friday for us. The car was real good all day and I felt a lot better at the end of the race than I thought I was going to. So to get a top-five finish for us, I'm really happy about it. "We had nothing for the '17' (Kenseth). We were probably about as good as the '25' (Vickers), but we just kept hanging in there and should have had a top-two finish today for sure, and if we had stayed out, maybe a win. But that's why they call it gambling when you come in the pits. Some took two (tires), some took none and some took four. We did what we thought was right. Whether it was right or wrong, we still got a top-five finish, so that was pretty good." Earnhardt's victory ended a 20-race winless streak, and it moved him from 16th to 13th in the championship point standings. Second went to Kenseth, while Johnson, Vickers and Stewart rounded-out the top-five. Jeremy Mayfield, Ricky Rudd, Kurt Busch, Casey Mears and Mark Martin comprised the rest of the top-10. The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the July 17 New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon. The race begins at 2:10 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by TNT

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