2008-10-09 / Sports

Tony Stewart Gets Controversial Talladega Win

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Regan Smith, driver of the No. 01 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet crossed the finish line first, but NASCAR ruled that he made an illegal pass on Tony Stewart near the end of the race, and declared Stewart the official winner.

"I knew I was only going to get one shot at him (Stewart), and I knew where I was going to make my move," said Smith. "Paul (Menard) was back there pushing me and I backed it up going into turn-3 so I could get a run.

"I always got told that if you got forced down there (below the yellow line), then you're the winner of the race. I had my nose inside of him and could have piled up the whole field."

NASCAR officials didn't see it the same as Smith. Instead, they ruled that he deliberately drove below the yellow line in order to make the pass under Stewart, and placed him 18th, the last car on the lead lap.

The win at Talladega was the first ever for Stewart, and broke a 43- race winless streak.

"Man, it's one thing to win, but to do it at Talladega is really something," said Stewart. "I've got so many friends here: Red Farmer and Donnie Allison. I know this hasn't been one of my favorite places, but this was for all those guys up in the stands."

Paul Menard, another DEI driver got the runner-up spot, the best finishing position of his career.

"It was quite a race," said Menard. "It was hard to make a move. I thought Regan had it. That was cool. He beat him to the line, but I guess he went under the yellow line."

The race was marred by a series of tire blowouts on the right side of five different cars, resulting in two major wrecks. After each pileup, the race was stopped.

The first major melee occurred on lap 68 after a right rear tire blew on Brian Vickers car. Other drivers involved were Martin Truex Jr., David Gilliland, Tony Raines, Mike Skinner, Aric Almirola, Jamie Mc- Murray, Terry Labonte, and Kasey Kahne.

The second one came later in the race after Roush driver Carl Edwards pushed his teammate Greg Biffle a little too hard. Edwards, Biffle and teammate Matt Kenseth were taken out, along with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Dave Blaney, Juan Montoya, and Travis Kvapil, the polesitter.

During lap 55 Jeff Gordon hit the wall after trying to dodge the spinning car of David Reutimann.

Denny Hamlin had a right front tire blow, sending him into the outside wall. He was taken to a local hospital for observations.

The top-10 finishers: 1. Tony Stewart, 2. Paul Menard, 3. David Ragan, 4. Jeff Burton, 5. Clint Bowyer, 6. Bobby Labonte, 7. Scott Riggs, 8. Robby Gordon, 9. Jimmie Johnson, 10. Elliott Sadler.

Bobby Labonte's sixth-place finish was the best of the season for a Richard Petty Racing team.

It was a rough day for Chase drivers. Nine of the 12 drivers took some kind of hit.

Top-12 Chase contenders with six races to go: 1. Johnson-5718, 2. Edwards-5646, 3. Biffle-5641, 4. Burton 5619, 5. Bowyer-5566, 6. Harvick- 5547, 7. Stewart-5515, 8. J. Gordon- 5486, 9. Kenseth-5473, 10. Earnhardt 5469, 11. Kyle Busch-5387, 12. Hamlin-5383

Todd Bodine bumped leader Kyle Busch out of the way on the last lap to win Saturday's Craftsman Truck Series race. Several trucks spun out behind the leaders on the final lap, but the race stayed green, allowing the frontrunners to battle to the finish line.

Top-10 Craftsman Truck Series leaders after 20 of 25: 1. Hornaday- 3027, 2. Benson-2988, 3. Crafton- 2809, 4. Bodine-2791, 5. Darnell-2771, 6. Skinner-2769, 7. Crawford-2691, 8. Sprague-2538, 9. Setzer-2524, 10. Cook-2460

Kyle Busch's season has gone sour

Kyle Busch's spectacular racing season has, in three weeks, gone sour. Busch has gone from the top to the bottom.

Busch was NASCAR's dominant driver until September, with a record 19 wins across three series. Now, in three quick races, he is all but eliminated from championship contention.

"It doesn't mean I'm not going to try on the race track and do everything in my power to work my way back up," Busch said. "But realistically, the amount of points is way too much to overcome.

"The mindset from the beginning was to go out and try to get wins. It's the same thing right now. (I'm) just further behind."

"About the only thing we can do is win every race from here on out. About anything the other guys can do is wreck every week to help us out."

Bobby Hamilton Jr. and Team Rensi

Bobby Hamilton loves to race, but he has struggled to stay with a good team. Now, the Nationwide Series team he's with might close their doors, and Hamilton is already looking for another ride.

Hamilton Jr. said Team Rensi Motorsports will close its doors in December if a new sponsor isn't found by then. He is in his second stint with the team, which didn't land a sponsor for the current season until last December.

"It's simple: If they don't have nothing by December, they're locking the doors," Hamilton Jr. said. "That's for real. They've already let people go. They've tried to keep as many good people as they could. We've already lost several good people because they didn't know what was going on and they had to have jobs. It's a bad deal. It's for real."

Crew chief Chris Wright remains with the team, though a source said nearly half of the team's payroll was cut via layoffs.

"The upsetting thing about it all is these guys have been in business for 11 years," Hamilton Jr. continued. "It's so hard now to get (a sponsor) to look at you unless you've got a Cup guy. It's a mess."

Hamilton Jr. blamed the current status of the Nationwide Series for the problems independent teams like Team Rensi are facing.

"The series has no identity," Hamilton Jr. said. "It doesn't have anything going on, there's nothing to watch. There's no drama because it's all the same stuff."

Team Rensi is co-owned by Ed Rensi and Gary Weisbaum. Once a two-car team, it was forced to cut back to one car, the No. 25 Ford, for 2008 because of sponsorship issues.

Hamilton Jr. said he has been "fishing around" for other rides.

"I'm about 40 percent, talking to a Cup deal," he continued. "I've been on the phone several times with a top-notch organization on the truck side. The Nationwide cars, there's just none out there. Everybody I've talked to, if you've got a sponsor, they'll take you. There are some that will let you run a handful of races whenever a Cup guy doesn't want to. I wouldn't turn my back to that because it's in really good equipment. I'd like to run full time, but if you can't, you've got to take what you can get."

Hamilton Jr. said he could end up owning his own Nationwide team next season.

The five-time series winner isn't ready to quit driving.

"I want to drive," Hamilton Jr. said. "I ain't ready to hang it up yet."

Next week: Is NASCAR really listening to the fans?

Weekend racing: The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series teams are at the 1.5-Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C. The Craftsman Trucks have an off weekend.

Friday, October 10, Nationwide Series Dollar General 300; starting time: 7:30 p.m. (EST); TV: ESPN2.

Saturday, October 11, Sprint Cup Bank of America 500; starting time: 7 p.m. (EST); TV: ABC.

Racing trivia question: Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland are the current Yates Racing drivers. Who will be the third Yates driver in 2009?

Last week's question: Who does David Ragan drive for? Answer. He drives the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@ earthlink.net.

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