Long Night in Bristol: Stewart Finishes 22nd in Sharpie 500

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Date: Aug. 26, 2006
Event: Sharpie 500 (Round 24 of 36)
Series: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Location: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 5th/22nd (Running, completed 498 of 500 laps)
Winner: Matt Kenseth of Roush Racing Tony Stewart drove his No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet to a 22nd place finish in Saturday night's Sharpie 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The run bumped the two-time and reigning Nextel Cup champion down three spots in the series point standings to eighth, eight points behind seventh-place Jeff Burton and 443 markers arrears series leader Jimmie Johnson. Despite qualifying a respectable fifth for the 500-lap race, Stewart was unable to hold onto track position from the initial waving of the green flag. In the first 23 laps around the lightning-fast .533-mile oval, Stewart dropped 11 spots to 16th. Six laps later, The Home Depot crew found out why, as Stewart radioed that the car was very loose in the center of the corner and had no grip. On lap 50, Stewart reported another handling problem - he was tight in the center of the corner, loose getting in and tight again on exit. On lap 62, crew chief Greg Zipadelli got his first chance to work on the car, and responded with the removal of a spring rubber and an air pressure change. It worked, but only for a while. After getting stuck behind rookie Reed Sorenson for several laps, Stewart pitted again on lap 121 and was pinned behind the car in front of him on Bristol's tight pit lane. An already tense evening turned a bit more so after that, as the car returned to its Jekyll and Hyde ways by lap 167. By lap 201, Stewart was running in the top-20. However, he was still battling a car that switched between tight and loose in the middle of the same corner. Another pit stop on lap 203 saw a track bar adjustment along with the requisite four tires, and Stewart went back out 21st. While that adjustment seemed to cure some of the car's ills, there was still plenty of work to be done, and Zipadelli called Stewart to pit lane on lap 228 to make another adjustment while most of the leaders stayed out. It cost four spots on the race track, and Stewart made two of them up by the halfway point. But track position means everything at Bristol, and by the time the car started to come around again, leader Jeff Burton put the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing machine one lap down on lap 288. Stewart never was able to get back on the lead circuit, and though the car was better, it still wasn't good enough to carve through the field. Despite some pretty serious racing for position, Stewart was unable to get into position to get back on the lead lap via the free pass. He lost another lap to the leader in the final 10 circuits and finished the race in 22nd. Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished sixth and 31st, respectively. Hamlin and Yeley now sit sixth and 28th, respectively, in points. Hamlin gained two spots with his top-10 finish while Yeley maintained his point standing. Matt Kenseth scored his 14th career Nextel Cup victory and his fourth of the season by winning the Sharpie 500. Kyle Busch finished second, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Scott Riggs and Jeff Gordon secured the rest of the top-five. Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Burton and Johnson comprised the remainder of the top-10. The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Sept. 3 California 500 at California Speedway in Fontana. The race begins at 8:05 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBC.

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