2011-11-03 / Sports

Stewart Gets Third Chase Win

By Gerald Hodges
THE RACING REPORTER


Tony Stewart Tony Stewart MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Tony Stewart won his third Chase race Sunday at Martinsville and moved into second, just eight points behind Carl Edwards.

On the last restart with three to go in the 500-lap race, Stewart was lined up on the outside of leader Jimmie Johnson. As the cars entered Turn 3, Stewart pulled alongside Johnson, and as the cars headed down the frontstretch, he completed his pass for the lead.

“Man, I don’t know how I pulled that off,” said Stewart. “No one passes the 48- car on the outside.

“I didn’t think we had the best car, but I had a little more grip than I thought.”

Stewart served notice in victory lane that he has his sights set on another Cup championship.

“He’d better be worried. That’s all I can say. He’s not going to have an easy three weeks,” he said, referring to Carl Edwards.

Johnson appeared to have the fastest car at the end, but unlike most of the other leaders, he did not pit for fresh tires during a caution on Lap 473.

“Not taking on fresh tires may have hurt us, but once he (Stewart) got up alongside me, I was worried about not wrecking either one of us,” said Johnson.

Johnson moved from seventh to sixth in points, but is still 43 behind Edwards.

Third-place finisher Jeff Gordon led the most laps (113), but lacked speed near the end.

“This was an absolutely crazy race,” said Gordon. “I got into Junior (Earnhardt) once. I went high when I should have went low. I don’t know what happened, but our car lost something on those last two runs.”

Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex, Carl Edwards, and Ryan Newman were the remaining top-10.

Chase contenders Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Brad Keselowski all took hits late in the race.

On Lap 461, Kenseth and Kyle Busch tangled, forcing both cars into the pits for repairs. Kenseth’s No. 17 had to go to the garage area, while Busch’s No. 18 was repaired on pit road.

Busch was in such a hurry to leave his pit stall that his team didn’t have time to tighten the lugnuts on his left front tire. He sped out of his pits, and about the time he reached the track surface, the tire came off and rolled about halfway around the track.

Keselowski finished 17th, with Kyle Busch 27th, and Kenseth 31st.

There was a record-high 18 cautions for 106 laps.

The three remaining races are at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.

Top-12 Chase contenders after 33 of 36: 1. Edwards- 2273, 2. Stewart-2265, 3. Harvick 2252, 4. Keselowski- 2246, 5. Kenseth-2237, 6. Johnson-2230, 7. Kyle Busch- 2216, 8. Kurt Busch-2215, 9. Earnhardt-2200, 10. J. Gordon 2197, 11. Hamlin-2193, 12. Newman-2193

Kenny Wallace will make his 520th Nationwide start this weekend at Texas, breaking Jason Keller’s old record. Wallace’s first race was in 1988 at Martinsville in a car owned by Dale Earnhardt.

“Actually when I think of 520 starts, in a weird way I don’t think of the Nationwide Series,” Wallace said on NASCAR.com. “I’ve got 344 Cup Series starts. I spent 10 full years in Sprint Cup. So as appreciative as I am to be in the Nationwide Series, it’s not really that 520 that I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about 864 combined starts and how that ranks 14th in NASCAR history.

The youngest of the three Wallace racing brothers, Kenny never emerged from the shadow of oldest brother Rusty as a racer.

When he was 15, Kenny traveled with Rusty to a race in Mobile, Ala.

“For helping on the team, sometimes they would let me practice the car,” he said. “This time I never got in the car. But he did let me get behind the wheel of the the hauler as we left the track. It had been a two-day show, and Rusty and all the team were exhausted, so I was designated to drive.”

“After a couple hours Rusty woke up and began screaming. He had looked over at the speedometer, which was showing 80 miles per hour, and almost had a heart attack. He made me pull over, and took the wheel.” “That’s the last time Rusty let me drive home after a race.”

This year he’s seventh in points, two spots in front of his nephew Steve. His career earnings as a Nationwide driver are more than $10-million.

Wallace is a seasoned driver and an ambassador of the sport, a hustler who never seems to tire publicly while scrambling to keep admirers smiling all around him.

He plans to run at least one more season in the Nationwide Series and then see where he’s at. But he’s feeling more at ease with himself these days as a television analyst.

“It really bothered me that people thought of me just as a TV guy,” he said. “I’ve had literally not hundreds but thousands of people tell me how good I am on TV, and I’ve struggled with it my whole life. I’m good at something I don’t care about being good at.

“And now, at 48 years old, I'm very grateful. Now I know my place in life. It doesn’t bother me like it used to. It used to tear me up, but now I’m almost there. I would say I’m 90-percent OK with it, and I’ve come a long way – because I used to be 100 percent not OK with it.”

As for what others think of him as a driver, he said he no longer cares. He said he knows exactly what he is and where he belongs.

And no matter what others do think of him, Kenny Wallace has added an awful lot to the racing world.

Denny Hamlin won Saturday’s Truck Series race while driving one of Kyle Busch’s trucks at Martinsville Speedway.

“The Truck Series is lots more competitive now than it’s ever been, and it means a lot to myself to win a Truck Series race, especially running just one a year,” said Hamlin. “This was just one of those weekends where everything worked out great for us.”

Ron Hornaday Jr. ran second, followed by Austin Dillon, Johnny Sauter, Joey Coulter, Kevin Harvick, Cale Gale, Timothy Peters, Brendan Gaughan, and James Buescher.

Top-10 leaders after 23 of 25: 1. Dillon-811, 2. Buescher- 800, 3. Hornaday- 796, 4. Sauter-796, 5. Peters-763, 6. Bodine-744, 7. Crafton-720, 8. Coulter-719, 9. Whitt-715, 10. Kligerman-682

Dave Moody reported on Sirius Radio last week that Truck Series driver Jack Sprague will return full-time in 2012, driving for for Randy Moss Racing.

Sprague has been absent from the NASCAR garage since 2008, when he finished ninth in points driving for Kevin Harvick Inc. and Wyler Racing. His last win came in 2007. He has 28 career wins in 297 starts, along with the 1997, 1999 and 2001 series titles.

He will reportedly run the 2011 season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway for Winfield Motorsports, reuniting with former crew chief Dennis Conner. Sprague and Conner teamed to win 24 Truck Series races and three championships.

Weekend racing: The Cup, Nationwide and Truck teams will be at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.

Friday, November 4, Camping World Trucks Winstar 350, race 24 of 25; starting time: 8: 30 p. m.; TV: Speed.

Saturday, November 5, Nationwide O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, race 32 of 35; starting time: 1 p.m.; TV: ESPN2.

Sunday, November 6, Sprint Cup AAA Texas 500, race 34 of 36; starting time: 2 p.m.; TV: ESPN.

Racing trivia question: Where is Kenny Wallace’s hometown?

Last week’s question: Who is the current crew chief on Tony Stewart’s No. 14? Answer. It is Darian Grubb.

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