Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stretch Drive for Stewart; No Factor in Points, but Defending Champ Is Gaining Late

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stretch Drive for Stewart; No Factor in Points, but Defending Champ Is Gaining Late

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Coble, Times-Union sports writer

CONCORD, N.C. -- Tony Stewart can't win this year's NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship. Neither can Ryan Newman or Jimmie Johnson.

That's why all three are using the final six races as a springboard for 2004.

Stewart, Newman and Johnson did what they do best Saturday night in the final 100 miles of the UAW-GM 500 at the Lowe's Motor Speedway. Stewart and Johnson relied on fast cars and a final pit stop for new tires; Newman tried to work his pit strategy and fuel mileage magic.

"Any time you can come and finish the year as strong as we've been in the last three or four weeks, it's sure going to help [to get 2004 off to a good start],'' said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart's crew chief. "Hopefully, we can finish the next six weeks here or so and get out of [season-finale at] Homestead with some good runs and take that momentum and start next year with it."

Zipadelli and Stewart are off to a good start in racing's stretch drive. They won Saturday night's race by erasing Newman's seven-second lead that was created by pit strategy and fuel mileage. Stewart finally got around Newman with six laps to go and won by 50 yards for his second victory of the season.

"After everything that's happened to us this year, it's good to get some momentum," Stewart said. "Now what we have to do is carry that over during the offseason and into next year.''

Matt Kenseth finished 12th to stop a two-race slide in the point standings. After losing 177 points in the two previous races with a blown engine and a crash, Kenseth was back on track with his 27th top-15 finish in 31 races to lead by 267 points over Kevin Harvick heading into Sunday's race at the Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Newman is fourth in the rankings; Johnson is fifth; and Stewart is seventh.

While Kenseth tries to protect his points lead, everyone else is trying to make the best of what's remaining. …

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