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Stewart Shoulders the Load at Pocono

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Third-Place Finish, Teammate's Victory Energize Home Depot Team
  • Date: June 11, 2006
  • Event: Pocono 500 (Round 14 of 36)
  • Series: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
  • Location: Pocono (Pa.) Raceway (2.5-mile triangle)
  • Start/Finish: 18th/3rd (Running)
  • Winner: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing
  • After completing all 200 laps and finishing a strong third in Sunday's Pocono 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Tony Stewart keyed his in car radio and said, "We're back!" The fractured right scapula he sustained two weeks ago in an accident at Charlotte (N.C.) that necessitated a relief driver in last Sunday's race at Dover (Del.) was never a factor at the 2.5-mile Pocono triangle, although Stewart did admit he would be a little sore once the adrenaline wore off. "I'm just really proud of this Home Depot team," said Stewart, whose No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet sported a "Proud Sponsor of Father's Day" logo on its hood. "I felt good all day in the car, even when the car was loose. I knew between yesterday and today we were going to get more strength and mobility in my arm, and it worked. We had an awesome day. This is as good as a win for me." Starting 18th, Stewart put to rest fears that his injured shoulder would hamper his driving when on the first lap he jumped all the way to 13th. Despite his Home Depot Chevrolet being very tight in the early going, Stewart was able to crack the top-10 by lap 15. During the first pit stop on lap 22, crew chief Greg Zipadelli and The Home Depot crew threw air pressure and wedge adjustments at the car. It responded, because in addition to gaining three spots on pit road, Stewart zipped into the top-five on lap 30 by passing series point leader Jimmie Johnson. On lap 51, Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin - who had won the pole for the race and had led 49 of the 51 laps - cut a left rear tire and spun through turn two, bringing out the day's second caution. The downtime allowed Stewart to report on his damaged shoulder. "There's a minimal amount of soreness," he said under caution. "I'm feeling pretty good in here." When he left pit road after four tires, fuel and an air-pressure adjustment, Stewart started feeling even better. He left pit road in third, and stayed among the top-six until Kyle Petty slammed the wall off turn two on lap 70. Another pit stop - delayed by having to wait for Kevin Lepage's car to duck into its pit stall directly ahead, losing the No. 20 team two spots - proved to be the one that got The Home Depot Chevrolet on the right track. Restarting 26th, Stewart started making strides in short order, picking up spots nearly every lap. In fact, when he cracked the top-10 on lap 87, he'd mowed down 17 cars in 11 laps. By lap 97, when he cheerfully called over the radio, "How about five points for the good guys," he'd knocked off 25 cars in 23 laps and earned five bonus points for leading a lap. As the race wound down, Stewart spent most of the time within the top-10, and had a chance to mix it up for the lead. His final pit stop on lap 167 dropped him to eighth, but from that point on, Stewart was headed toward the front. Ten laps later, everyone's pit stops had cycled through, which left Stewart fourth with 23 laps remaining. He stayed there, chasing Hamlin, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch until lap 190, when Jeff Gordon lost his brakes and slammed the turn one wall, tearing up the SAFER barrier. Biffle ran over a piece of debris from the accident and was forced to pit, leaving Stewart third for the final restart. After a 12-minute and 48-second red flag period, Stewart gave chase to Busch and Hamlin. He made a strong move for second on the lap-196 restart, but Busch was able to hold him off. "I was hoping that the guys who took tires weren't going to be so fast at the end that they'd be able to get caught up," said Stewart. "I wasn't fast enough to catch the '2' (Busch), but I could stay right with him. I feel great. I feel like I could run another 500 miles here today. If this was Dover though, I'd be pretty worn out." Following his post-race interviews, Stewart went directly to victory lane to congratulate his rookie teammate. "As happy as I am, I'm even happier for that kid down there," said Stewart, gesturing toward Hamlin. "He's a great kid, an awesome teammate, and I think he's going to win some more this year." The third-place effort moved Stewart up one spot to fourth in the championship point standings, 257 markers arrears Johnson. Hamlin's win vaulted him into the top-10 in points to ninth, a gain of two positions. Fellow Gibbs driver J.J. Yeley finished a solid 15th to maintain his 27th place point standing. While Hamlin, Busch and Stewart took the top-three spots, Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth secured the rest of the top-five. Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs, Jeff Burton and Johnson comprised the rest of the top-10. The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the June 18 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The race begins at 1:10 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX.

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