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The Callahan Report: Confidence restored; Stewart wins at Dover

4 June 2000

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Tony Stewart
DOVER, DE: It's not a sophomore jinx exactly, but heading into the 13th race of the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season Tony Stewart thought things should be going better. After all, the second-year driver for Joe Gibbs Racing won three events last year. Stewart returned to his winning ways Sunday by dominating the MBNA Platinum 400 at Dover Down International Speedway.

After finishing an astonishing fourth place in the final point standings in 1999, Stewart headed to Dover Sunday in a dismal tenth place. He and his crew were beginning to wonder if 1999 was a fluke. Their confidence was lacking.

The team experienced only one DNF (Did Not Finish) during the 1999 season. The 2000 season is one-third complete and they have already failed to finish three of the races competed.

They also felt their fan base was damaged recently when inaccurate stories were published about the young former champion of the Indy Racing League.

Nothing rebuilds confidence like a dominating performance. Stewart should have all the confidence in the world after running away from the savvy racing veterans and new emerging stars like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenneth Sunday at Dover. Stewart left nothing on the table by leading 242 of the 400 laps.

"We had an unbelievable car," Stewart said. "We never had to change anything but air pressure. We had a car that could drive away from everybody."

Stewart seems to have the track known as the "Monster Mile" figured out. Last year, Stewart dominated this race only to be robbed of his first victory on a bad pit call for fuel. History could have repeated itself this time around.

Stewart knew he was going to require a splash of fuel near the end of the race. Most of the competition began making pit stops with 25 laps remaining in the race. Stewart stayed on the track, hoping for some help from lady luck. She didn't disappoint him.

Stewart was making a pass on Jeff Gordon, a three time Winston Cup Champion, when Gordon slid up the track and into the wall. As Gordon spread debris around the track, the yellow flag waved slowing the field. Stewart was able to make his much-needed stop for fuel without losing any ground.

As it turned out, Stewart could have waited even longer. Kyle Petty, driving for the injured John Andretti, tapped Sterling Marlin late in the race. Marlin spun and hit the inside retaining wall hard, bringing out the final caution of the race. It provided the last piece of drama in the MBNA Platinum 400 as the field bunched up for one final dash to the checkered flag.

On the restart, Matt Kenseth was prepared to show why he is leading the 2000 rookie standings. Kenseth, who won for the first time in his career last weekend at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, tried to give Stewart a scare in the final laps.

"On the restart, I held it wide open in (turns) one and two, and down the backstretch, trying to get a run on him," said Kenseth. "I just didn't have enough to beat him."

As the crowd stood for the finish, Stewart was ahead of second place finisher Kenseth by 1.215 seconds . . . a blowout by NASCAR standards.

Kenseth was the meat in a Joe Gibbs Racing sandwich as Bobby Labonte, the lead driver for Gibbs, crossed the finish line in third place. The Robert Yates Racing Team followed him. Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd finished fourth and fifth respectively.

Stewart, learning from his experienced teammate and his car owner (Bobby Labonte and Joe Gibbs), is becoming a seasoned veteran quickly. Starting from the 16th position, Stewart patiently picked his way through the field. On lap 107, Stewart guided his Home Depot Pontiac around Jeremy Mayfield for the lead.

Stewart moved up one spot (to ninth) in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings with his win Sunday.

Stewart's confidence has returned. When Stewart is confident, the competition has reason to worry.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.