By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
Heading into Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, Tony Stewart was winless in 17 previous tries in NASCAR’s longest night and hoped that his 18th start in the Memorial Day weekend classic would be the race where he would finally be able to end the night in victory lane.
“Any time you win a race at Charlotte, it’s big. It’s a speedway with a lot of history and, obviously, the Coca-Cola 600 is a huge event. I’m a big fan of shorter races nowadays, but the 600 is truly a special event with it being on Memorial Day weekend and the history of the 600, back to when it was known as the World 600. There’s just a lot of tradition that surrounds the month of May in Charlotte. So, this is a big race. It’s an important race to win,” Stewart said heading into the weekend.
However for Stewart, his final run in the Coca-Cola 600 would be one to forget. After unapproved adjustments prior to the race, Stewart had to abandon his 21st place starting position to start at the back of the pack. Though Stewart began making progress through the field early in the race, handling issues with his No. 14 Chevrolet would persist throughout the night as he would finish the race in 24th, four laps down to race winner Martin Truex, Jr.
Though Stewart had a night that he would soon forget, he was able to pay tribute to a fallen member of the military on his car during the race as a part of the “600 miles of remembrance” program. Instead of Stewart having his name on the windshield of the car, the banner was reserved for Master Sgt. Paul D. Karpowich, who was one of 22 Americans killed by a suicide bomber in a crowded mess tent during lunchtime in Iraq just four days before Christmas in 2004.
“Men and women like Paul, who died serving our country, are the real heroes in the world and the people who deserve honoring and remembering this weekend,” said Stewart. “It’s more than an honor to have his name on our car.”
Leaving Charlotte, Stewart sits 60 points from 30th place in points with 13 races remaining in the regular season, so needless to say, he will have his work cut out for him to be able to try and qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in his final season.
Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images