Stewart wins, standings shuffled at Talladega

By Aaron Bell -
October 5, 2008

It's been a long time coming for Tony Stewart, but on Sunday, he finally shook the proverbial monkey off his back.

Stewart held off the Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammates of Regan Smith, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola on a green-white-checkered finish to win the Amp Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. It was his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in over a year.

"I knew with three DEI cars coming that it was going to be tough to hold off," Stewart said. "I thought (Smith) was going to be able to stay on my bumper. I just had to try to protect it at the end."

Stewart's last win came at Watkins Glen in August of 2007. Today's victory is his first Cup series win at Talladega after finishing second here six times.

"It's one thing to get back to Victory lane, but to do it at Talladega? This is one of about four places I haven't won a Cup race at," Stewart said. "I've wanted to win here for so long."

Stewart started 34th and bided his time most of the day hoping to avoid any wrecks. The strategy paid off and he took the lead with 26 laps left to go.

"After the year we had, I don't know what to say," said Stewart's crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "We won at Talladega. I'm proud of everybody."

Smith thought that he had his first Cup series win when he passed Stewart just before the finish line, but he dropped below the yellow line to make the pass and wasn't credited with the win. He was scored 18th.

"I knew I was only going to get one shot at him," Smith said. "I had a nose inside of him."

The DEI teammates tried to form a line and work their way around Stewart, but with the green-white-checkered finish, they didn't have a lot of time to make the pass.

"It was hard to make a move," said Menard, who announced earlier this week that he was leaving DEI at the end of the season. "It was a very cool day for DEI. I'm definitely looking forward to finishing out the year with them."

The biggest news on the day was the number of Chase contenders that were wiped out in a late race incident.

Carl Edwards was pushing teammate Greg Biffle to the lead on the outside line with 15 laps to go but Edwards tapped Biffle's bumper in the corner and both cars spun. Chasers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth were also caught up in the wreck. Pole sitter Travis Kvapil was also caught up in that accident.

"I was just pushing Greg as hard as I could," Edwards said after being released from the medical centre. "It was my fault. We'd been pushing each other a lot and I guess we got in exactly the wrong spot. I feel bad that I took my teammates out. It just didn't work out today. I was worried about the idiots when I came here and I was the guy that caused that one."

After winning the first two races in the Chase for the Championship, Biffle was looking for his teammate to help push him to another win.

"Same old Talladega," Biffle said. "It was unfortunate and I just hate it for the guys. You just can't expect anything out of Talladega."

Harvick led the longest run and was running near the front of the field when he made contact with David Ragan and spun with 24 laps to go. He stayed on the lead lap and suffered minimal damage and was running with the leaders again when the wreck happened.

"It looked like the 99 should have drafted all day because obviously he wasn't ready to start racing," Harvick said. "He made a mistake and tore up most of the field. We were just racing really hard. It was a lot of fun. It's just Talladega."

Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer also made ground in the championship standings after finishing fifth and sixth.

Jimmie Johnson just made his way around the mess and held on for a 10th place finish.

Earnhardt Jr. qualified 15th but was forced to start at the tail of the field after making an engine change after qualifying. He commented that despite all the lead changes, it didn't seem like the drivers were being overly aggressive in the closing laps.

"It wasn't that aggressive," Earnhardt said. "(Edwards) just made a mistake. It was a little nerve wracking with the tires blowing. That made me nervous. I was hoping we could pull off a win. We sure needed one."

Jeff Gordon is also in the Chase for the Cup and had trouble earlier in the day. He was running well early in the race but got caught up on an incident with David Reutimann on lap 54 that ended his chances for a good finish.

"We kind of got shuffled to the back and were trying to get together with teammates," Gordon said. "I tried to avoid him but when I did the car went to the right and I lost control. That's part of Talladega."

Johnson left Talladega with a 68 point lead on Edwards with six races left to go in the season.

Bowyer moved up two spots in the standings to fifth while Stewart made the biggest gains, jumping up to seventh.

The first red flag of the race was when nine cars were involved in a lap 68 incident that started at the front of the pack when the right front tire on Brian Vickers' Toyota blew coming through the front stretch.

"It was like a bomb exploded in my right front tire," Vickers said. "It didn't cut or go flat, it exploded."

"It's frustrating," said Martin Truex Jr., who was caught up in the incident. "We had a great race car and were racing for the lead. The 83 was right there inside me and his tire exploded. I heard a bang and then was just along for the ride."

Denny Hamlin also had a tire issue when he was leading a little past the halfway point of the race. His left front tire blew sending his car heavily into the outside wall. Hamlin was alert and awake when he was helped out of the car but was taken to an area hospital for further observation.

He dropped down to 12th in the standings.