DOVER, Del. - Tony Stewart wedged his racecar into his pit box behind Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet and fumed as a NASCAR official blocked his exit.
Stewart's right front tire was judged to be over the pit-box line, and in the world of Winston Cup racing, that's against the law.
Stewart, whose No. 20 Chevrolet was the car to beat, lost a lap. Instead of emerging first, where he had been when he entered the pits on Lap 140, he left in 32nd position and a lap down.
The sky was an ugly gray and the wind was whipping, but the weather was nowhere near as angry as Stewart, who spent the rest of the afternoon trying to make up that difference in the MBNA Armed Forces Family 400.
When the race was finally decided over a final six-lap shootout, Ryan Newman wound up the winner, as he held off Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Stewart, who afterward emerged from his car and bolted to the privacy of his motor home without comment.
"To come back and have a chance to win after that penalty tells you he was the class of the field," Gordon said.
Newman, however, wouldn't acknowledge Stewart's superiority, as he overcame the loss of power steering in his No. 12 Dodge and averaged 106.896 mph for an 0.834-of-a-second victory to become the first driver since Richard Petty in 1975 to put a Dodge in Victory Lane at Dover International Speedway.
"I definitely knew he had a really fast racecar," Newman said, "but he screwed up in the pits. It wasn't a piece of tape coming off or a blown tire. It was his own screw-up, in my opinion."
And Newman didn't want to hear or entertain any speculation about what the results would have been had Stewart not been called for the infraction.
"A lot of guys had problems," Newman said. "We lost our power steering about 185 miles into the race. I could speculate that if we had had power steering, we could have lapped the field. But that's hearsay."
Yesterday was one of the most enthralling races ever run at the one-mile, high-banked oval. Stewart had been running away from the field, rolling up nearly a three-second lead before the devastating pit stop during a caution period in which all the leaders pitted.
Pit road at Dover is so tight that Gordon called it a safety hazard for the men who work on the cars and an unnecessary evil in this modern age of safety consciousness.
When most of the cars pit at the same time, they are bumper to bumper in the tiny boxes. Crewmen are often forced to jump out of the way, and drivers are often forced to angle their cars into position as best they can, avoiding the rear bumper of the car in front and the front bumper of the car behind.
On this stop, Stewart had wedged his car in, but not all the way in, according to NASCAR.
"It was a tough call," said Stewart's crew chief, Greg Zipadelli. "If you come over the line, they [NASCAR officials] tell you to stop and go back and you're OK. I can't see from where I'm at, and the tire changer didn't say anything. We weren't over the line. We were on the line by an inch. What are you going to do? A rule's a rule - but usually they just tell you to back up."
The violation gave the rest of the field renewed hope.
"I was pitting between Tony and Jimmie Johnson," Gordon said. "It was impossible for any of us to gain any position in the pits because everyone was so tight. When Tony was called for the penalty, it made my day come to life, because it put Tony on a different pitting sequence most of the day and I didn't have to worry about his car being in my way. I feel bad it happened, but it was very good for me."
When the green flag waved for the restart, Newman was in the lead and Stewart was about to begin his battle to regain his lost lap.
By Lap 183, Stewart was on Newman's bumper, but Newman cut him off continually, and he was having none of the so-called gentlemen's agreement that often calls for the leader to allow a car an easy pass to make up a lap when a caution comes out.
When the caution came on Lap 203, Stewart charged under Newman in Turn 3, but could not complete the pass by the time they reached the start-finish line. As the two continued on, slowing into Turn 1, Stewart ran Newman all the way up to the outside wall trying to bang into Newman's car.
"It's just typical of him," said Newman, who raced Stewart in midget competition before they made it to NASCAR. "He was pretty upset. But he had a fast racecar, and giving a lap back, the situation is you can give it or he can take it. He wasn't in position to take it, and I wasn't in position to give it."
So Stewart had to wait another costly 16 laps before he was finally able to pass Jimmie Johnson, who had taken the lead during the pit stops that occurred under that yellow flag on Lap 203.
Once Stewart was back on the lead lap, he took off and eventually closed to second. But he was third when the final caution came out, setting up the six-lap shootout that Newman won.
"I guess, when we get home and realize we led laps and were back up there battling for the lead once again, then it might all seem different," Zipadelli said. "But not getting our lap back any sooner didn't help things, either."
"We're racers," he said. "We compete against each other and we try to be friends. But it's a competitive sport. He's not going to invite me to dinner tonight - but we'll talk and get over it and go on. To me, it was his own fault."