Michigan's Irish Hills Offer Little Luck to Stewart

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Early Race Crash Leads to 41st Place Finish
Date: June 18, 2006
Event: 3M Performance 400 (Round 15 of 36)
Series: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Location: Michigan International Speedway (2-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 17th/41st (Accident, completed 58 of 129 laps)
Winner: Kasey Kahne of Evernham Motorsports Michigan's Irish Hills region offered little luck to Tony Stewart in Sunday's rain-shortened 3M Performance 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The 129-lap race - cut 71 laps short of its scheduled 200-lap distance - was barely underway when the two-time and reigning Nextel Cup champion found himself pointed backward and into the turn three wall. A nudge from the bumper of Jeff Green's Chevrolet into the left rear quarterpanel of Stewart's No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet spelled trouble on the 22nd circuit on the 2-mile oval. Stewart backed into the SAFER barrier on the outside retaining wall of turn three and then slid across the race track where he was clipped by the Chevrolet of Clint Bowyer. Heavy front and rear damage was the result, with Stewart steering a smoking wreck of a race car into the garage area for lengthy repairs. "I just got clipped in the left rear," said Stewart. "It wasn't anything intentional, by any means. Jeff (Green) was a little eager probably." Eager to fix his race car, Stewart joined his Joe Gibbs Racing crew in making repairs to the No. 20 machine. Wielding a rubber mallet, Stewart went to work on his car's left front fender in an attempt to restore it to its original contours. "I was just trying to get the car fixed so we could get out there and get back in the race," said Stewart. "I was just trying to help these guys. They worked hard. I didn't have anything better to do. I didn't have anything else planned." The hard work paid off. After plenty of beating, banging, cutting and welding, Stewart climbed into the cockpit, cranked the engine and returned to the track on lap 82. While still many laps down to the leaders, the goal was to take advantage of anyone else's misfortune. Another team with worse luck than Stewart's would mean another position earned. When Jamie McMurray tagged Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate J.J. Yeley to send Yeley spinning down the backstretch on lap 31, other teams found misfortune. Obviously Yeley was one of them, but like Stewart, was able to get back on the race track after making repairs to complete more laps than Stewart. But when Yeley spun, he collected Ken Schrader and Joe Nemechek. Schrader's race was over while Nemechek's damage was minor. With Schrader done for the day, Stewart ended up completing more laps, thus leapfrogging Schrader in the running order. When a heavy downpour swept over the track after just two hours and 10 minutes of racing, Stewart's tough outing was mercifully ended. The 41st place finish dropped Stewart two spots to sixth in the championship point standings, 367 markers arrears series leader Jimmie Johnson. Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and Yeley - finished 12th and 40th, respectively. Hamlin and Yeley occupy the ninth and 27th positions, respectively. Both drivers maintained their point positions from the previous race at Pocono (Pa.). Hamlin is 486 points behind Johnson and Yeley is 941 points back. Kasey Kahne scored his fifth career Nextel Cup victory and his fourth of the season by winning the 3M Performance 400. Carl Edwards finished second, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Reed Sorenson secured the rest of the top-five. Johnson, Casey Mears, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick comprised the rest of the top-10. The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the June 25 Dodge/SaveMart 350k road course event at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. The race begins at 3:40 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX.

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