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Monday, May 18, 2009

Million-dollar Tony: Stewart lets others wreck, then claims All-Star win

We all said he was crazy to want to be a co-owner of a NASCAR team and leave his top-notch ride at Joe Gibbs, where he had won a couple championships.

Who’s crazy now?

On a night where the all-star action was highly unexciting until the final two segments (no green flag passes for the lead until the race was 80 percent complete), it was an intelligent “hang toward the front and let the others wreck” strategy that let Stewart get the win in the all-star event.

In what’s becoming a common thing, the story of the race was Stewart-Haas racing. Stewart’s teammate Ryan Newman had suspension issues early in the race, but Jimmie Johnson showed the rare gift of racing kindness by letting Newman back on the lead lap when he could have put him two laps down.

Once he got his mechanical issues worked out, Newman quickly made his way up front and almost wins the race, until some 3-wide action with Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon went bad and ruined his chances.

Watching all this through his windshield was one of Newman’s bosses: Mr. Tony Stewart. As he often does at tracks where wrecks are common, he never really pushed too hard and hung around the top 5 and top 10 all day. But somehow, you know he had more to give when it mattered.

Then, as he often does at places like Talladega, the big wreck happened up front, and you-know-who was in the perfect spot to grab the race win, passing Matt Kenseth with just a couple laps to go. He’s been awesome all year in the #14 car at his new team, with results that have far exceeded what most fans expected him to do this year, and this is the million-dollar topper that is his best result yet.

It’s strange to see him celebrating in anything other than Home Depot orange, but we better get used to it. This team is on a roll, and Tony picked one of the biggest nights of the year to have his coming-out party. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does what Kasey Kahne did last year and takes this momentum into a win in the 600.

Busch can’t seal the deal
I had a feeling, heading into this weekend, that Kyle Busch was the man to beat. I was right, but a simple matter of science (too many cars in too little space) banged his car up sufficiently that he was no longer a factor. He will win one of these things eventually, though, as this race offers his type of racing – all-out, three-wide, win at all costs and don’t worry about the points. Ironically, the move Ryan Newman took to create the three-wide situation was right out of Busch’s own playbook.

Not the race it used to be
I remember when “The Winston” was an awesome all-star event with plenty of excitement guaranteed. With the leader running off for the first two segments Saturday night, I was on the verge of falling asleep. Sure, there was some action in the middle and back of the pack, but mostly it was a snoozeworthy event.

Vote-in driver a surprise
The fans voted for Joey Logano to get into the big race, which was somewhat surprising to me. The teenage driver has yet to accomplish much in the sport, though his future will no doubt be very bright. His great finish last week at Darlington probably boosted his profile, but I was expecting someone else, perhaps Michael Waltrip, to win what was essentially a popularity contest. Logano backed up his right to be there with a great run to finish 8th. Not too shabby for a rookie.

Penske power
Amid rumors that Chrysler might pull some of its NASCAR support very soon, the Dodges of Roger Penske’s team seem to be turning a corner. All three Penske drivers were strong in Saturday night’s events. Sam Hornish Jr. won the Showdown to transfer to the big show, while teammate David Stremme led most of the Showdown and might have transferred if not for Jamie McMurray’s awesome run up to second place. Last but not least, top Penske driver Kurt Busch was near the front all night battling with some very solid drivers. This team may be turning a corner, and the 600 next week will be a good test.


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