16 August 2004
Sick Stewart guts out Watkins win.
Less than half way into Sunday's 90-lap Sirius at the Glen, Tony Stewart's #20 Joe Gibbs Racing crew had Boris Said sitting in Stewart's back-up Home Depot Chevrolet to see if the versatile road course ace could squeeze his lanky frame into the cockpit of the #20 machine should an increasingly ill Stewart need to withdraw. He didn't.
Fighting off the unpleasant consequences of a stomach bug and leg cramps inside a cramped and extremely hot stock car cockpit, Stewart led a total of 46 laps, including the final 25 to take his second career victory at the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International road course.
After a number of different pit strategies shuffled the running order greatly during the mid-portion of the race, Stewart took the lead for a fourth and final time on lap 76, neatly outbraking a fuel miserly Casey Mears into the back straight esses and then keeping a steady gap back to road course ace Ron Fellows as the race wound down.
After the race, a rather wan looking Stewart climbed straight out of his car, which he did manage to guide successfully to Victory Lane as per NASCAR protocol, before departing directly to his motor home before he could be interviewed.
While some cynically suggested that this was a big ruse from Stewart, aimed at ridiculing the recent Gatorade/PowerAde/Victory Lane 'Bottlegate' saga, there was no denying the fact that Stewart didn't look his usual self at the end of the race.
There was also no denying the fact that Stewart had the strongest car in the field, save for a couple of laps in the early going when he and fellow road course ace Jeff Gordon battled for the lead.
But Gordon, and a number of other major players in the title chase, eventually fell foul of the sweeping, mechanically demanding eleven turn course, the #24 DuPont Chevrolet losing all but fourth gear in the closing laps and dropping the Hendrick Motorsports driver to 21st at the finish.
After dealing with Gordon's best challenge, Stewart fell out of the lead picture as pit strategy came into play, with defending Watkins Glen Champion Robby Gordon leading a dozen laps through the middle of the race. Gordon's #31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet looked comfortable at the head of the field, but Robby had no answer for Stewart as the 2002 NASCAR Champ charged back up the leaderboard to take the lead at half distance.
A green flag pit stop for fuel and tyres on lap 56 pushed Stewart back into the lower reaches of the top 20 and allowed several unfamiliar faces to take the spotlight at the head of the field. These faces included Mears and Brendan Gaughan, who were both doubtful to go the full distance on fuel but who, between them, led 15 laps.
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