2009-05-21 / Sports

Stewart Wins All-Star Race

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Tony Stewart Tony Stewart CONCORD, N.C. - Tony Stewart led only once for two laps in Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but they were the most important ones, as he paced the final two circuits around the 1.5-mile oval after getting by Matt Kenseth for the lead on lap 98 of the 100- lap event.

Stewart, who started 15th, was in the top 10 for much of the night, but didn't become a factor at the front of the pack until he began battling with Kenseth in the final five laps of the event.

"I can't believe he (Kenseth) gave me the bottom," Stewart said. "We got a run on him two laps before and got a run off of (turn) two at the bottom and got beside him. I overdrove it in (turn) three and just got down there and got loose trying to clear him, and he was able to get back by us. Then he went to the bottom in (turns) one and two the next lap. I don't think he was great down there, but he was good enough, I think, to hold us off. But the next lap we go back through there and we got a run off of (turn) four on him."

It was Stewart's first victory as driver/owner for Stewart-Haas Racing. It was also the first All- Star race win for Stewart, who had four top-10 finishes in 10 previous starts in the event. Stewart became the second driver/owner to win the All-Star Race, joining Geoff Bodine, who accomplished the feat in 1994.

Matt Kenseth, who ran in second position the majority of the race's second half, took the lead with five laps remaining, but was unable to hold off the advance of Stewart's No. 14 car.

"It's better to run second than anywhere else but first," said Kenseth. "On the other hand, it's disappointing when you take two to go on the track, and you're in the lead, and you come home second. I feel bad that we got beat, but I think I could do it 100 times and I couldn't hold him off."

Stewart's teammate, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army/Haas Automation Chevrolet, finished a disappointing 18th after battling with the leaders in the closing stages of the race. On lap 93, Newman made contact with the wall while engaging in a three-way battle for the lead with Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch. The damage to Newman's car sent him to the garage, seven laps shy of the finish.

Following Stewart and Kenseth across the stripe was Kurt Busch, while Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, rookie Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. comprised the remainder of the top 10.

Sam Hornish won the preliminary Sprint Showdown to advance to the Sprint All-Star Race.

Hornaday rallies for Lowe's win

Ron Hornaday rallied from a lap down to win the Craftsman Truck Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway over Kyle Busch. The win was Hornaday's first of the 2009 season, and moved him into the points lead over Mike Skinner.

Top-10 leaders after 6 of 25: 1. Hornaday-966, 2. Skinner-882, 3. Crafton-877, 4. Ky. Busch-852, 5. Bodine-837, 6. Cook-786, 7. Benson 779, 8. McCumbee-770, 9. Compton-762, 10. Scott-759

What's the story on Dale Jr.

What has happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his team this season? Week after week, they turn in a poor performance. He faces many questions for which he still has no answers, like why isn't he up front and challenging for wins?

He headed into last weekend's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway 18th in the Sprint Cup points standings after a 27th-place finish at Richmond He has not won in nearly a year, dating back to June 15, 2008, at Michigan, and has only one topfive finish this season.

At Darlington, he missed his pit stall - again - during his first pit stop. Then he fell behind when his crew let a tire get away during another pit stop. Later, to cap things off, he wrecked.

Two pit mistakes and a wreck. Sadly, it was pretty much par for the course for Junior and his beleaguered team. He finished 27th and dropped two spots to 18th in points. About what you've come to expect from this disappointing driver and crew.

This mediocre performance is not what anyone had in mind when he left Dale Earnhardt Inc., to join powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports at the start of 2008. The assumption that wins and championship runs would follow now seems hopelessly optimistic.

But the pressure of expectations remains, and the strain might be showing.

Asked by reporters at Darlington why he was frustrated or on edge, Earnhardt said, "You go sit in that car. It's not fun."

There has been plenty of criticism of Earnhardt's crew chief, Tony Eury Jr. Earnhardt has mostly offered public support for his cousin. But he was critical of his racecar at Richmond, and not merely because there were problems making adjustments to the car during the race.

"We'll, ya'll saw what happened," Earnhardt said. "Why do I got to comment on it? It don't help nothing to talk about it. Not for me. My team has had enough crap from everybody else. I don't need to weigh in on it. Ya'll saw what happened and ya'll can say what you want to say. We're working on it and we're trying to fix it."

There have been rumors that team owner Rick Hendrick will make a drastic change in the No. 88 race team, swapping Eury with Alan Gustafson, the crew chief for Mark Martin in the No. 5. Both Martin and Gustafson downplayed that scenario when asked about it at Darlington.

"I know everybody's impatient," said Hendrick. "I'm impatient. I'm by nature a little bit of a procrastinator. And until I can see that we've done everything we can, the last thing I want to do is tear something down because it's been good before. ... I'm doing everything I can do right now. Hopefully, after the next two or three races, we're going to see big improvement."

His fans can only wait and hope.

Next week: Stewart/Haas Racing; A Big Surprise

Weekend racing: The Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams are at the 1.5-mile Lowe's Motor Speedway. For the Cup teams, this weekend's Coca Cola 600 will be their longest race of the year (600 miles).

Sat., May 23, Nationwide Series Carquest Auto Parts 300, starting time: 7:30 p.m. (EDT); TV: ESPN2.

Sun., May 24, Sprint Cup Coca Cola 600, starting time: 5 p.m. (EDT); TV: FOX.

Racing trivia question: Why has NASCAR suspended Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield?

Last week's question: How many Cup wins does Casey Mears, driver of the 07 Chevrolet have? Answer. His only cup win came at Charlotte in 2007.

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

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