By Ben White
Driving the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac, former open-wheel sensation Tony Stewart, from Columbus, Ind., recorded three wins and had 21 top-10 finishes en route to his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Stewart came to NASCAR in 1995 through the Xfinity Series after a very successful open-wheel career that included championships in midget, sprint car and Indy car competition. His next quest was NASCAR and thanks to an opportunity provided by legendary NFL coach turned race team owner Joe Gibbs, Stewart would try his hand at the heavier stock cars of the NASCAR Cup Series circuit.
Stewart warmed up with the Xfinity Series cars from 1995 through 1998 in select events before tackling the Cup Series full time in 1999. The results were impressive, as he won three times that season at Richmond, Phoenix and Homestead
Three more victories came in each of the 2000 and 2001 seasons, setting the stage for a possible championship run in 2002. Stewart and crew Greg Zipadelli felt they were ready for the daunting challenge as long as their equipment held together. That wasn’t the case, however, during the season-opening Daytona 500 as Stewart’s engine expired, leaving him with a 42nd-place finish.
Steadily, Stewart and his team dug themselves out of the hole with wins at Atlanta in March, Richmond in May and Watkins Glen in August. With his second-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 6, Stewart gained the points lead and held it for the remaining six races.His eighth-place finish at Phoenix and 16th at Homestead in the final two races helped to ice the title with a 63-point advantage over Mark Martin.
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Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Home Depot Pontiac, won three NASCAR Cup Series races and had 21 top-10 finishes in 36 races. Getting off to a slow start, Stewart and his JGR crew worked race by race to improve their performance and managed to build their way into the championship hunt. With less than 10 races remaining, they took the points lead and held it until the final checkered flag.
On Oct. 13, Jamie McMurray, a relative unknown in Cup Series circles, filled in for the injured Sterling Marlin and drove the No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge to Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was only McMurray’s second series start but he drove like a seasoned veteran, leading 96 of 334 laps. McMurray went on to win Cup Series races at Daytona, Talladega, Indianapolis and again at Charlotte during his career.
Tony Stewart’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Home Depot Pontiac recorded three Cup Series wins and had 21 top-10 finishes in 36 starts.
The No. 6 Roush Racing Viagra Ford driven by Mark Martin posted one win and 22 top-10 results during the 2002 season.
2002 Season Recap
DATE | LOCATION | WINNER
Feb. 17 | Daytona International Speedway | Ward Burton
Feb. 24 | Rockingham Speedway | Matt Kenseth
March 3 | Las Vegas Motor Speedway | Sterling Marlin
March 10 | Atlanta Motor Speedway | Tony Stewart
March 17 | Darlington Raceway | Sterling Marlin
March 24 | Bristol Motor Speedway | Kurt Busch
April 7 | Texas Motor Speedway | Matt Kenseth
April 14 | Martinsville Speedway | Bobby Labonte
April 21 | Talladega Superspeedway | Dale Earnhardt Jr.
April 28 | Auto Club Speedway | Jimmie Johnson
May 5 | Richmond Raceway | Tony Stewart
May 26 | Charlotte Motor Speedway | Mark Martin
June 2 | Dover Motor Speedway | Jimmie Johnson
June 9 | Pocono Raceway | Dale Jarrett
June 16 | Michigan International Speedway | Matt Kenseth
June 23 | Sonoma Raceway | Ricky Rudd
July 6 | Daytona International Speedway | Michael Waltrip
July 14 | Chicagoland Speedway | Kevin Harvick
July 21 | New Hampshire Motor Speedway | Ward Burton
July 28 | Pocono Raceway | Bill Elliott
Aug. 4 | Indianapolis Motor Speedway | Bill Elliott
Aug. 11 | Watkins Glen International | Tony Stewart
Aug. 18 | Michigan Int’l Speedway | Dale Jarrett
Aug. 24 | Bristol Motor Speedway | Jeff Gordon
Sept. 1 | Darlington Raceway | Jeff Gordon
Sept. 7 | Richmond Raceway | Matt Kenseth
Sept. 15 | New Hampshire Motor Speedway | Ryan Newman
Sept. 22 | Dover Motor Speedway | Jimmie Johnson
Sept. 29 | Kansas Speedway | Jeff Gordon
Oct. 6 | Talladega Superspeedway | Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Oct. 13 | Charlotte Motor Speedway | Jamie McMurray
Oct. 20 | Martinsville Speedway | Kurt Busch
Oct. 27 | Atlanta Motor Speedway | Kurt Busch
Nov. 3 | Rockingham Speedway | Johnny Benson
Nov. 10 | Phoenix Raceway | Matt Kenseth
Nov. 17 | Homestead-Miami Speedway | Kurt Busch