Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stewart Wins a Wild One at Talladega; Smith Drives out of Bounds, Nullifying an Apparent Victory

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stewart Wins a Wild One at Talladega; Smith Drives out of Bounds, Nullifying an Apparent Victory

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Even by Talladega Superspeedway standards, Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AMP Energy 500 was over the top.

Tony Stewart was the second driver across the finish line, and he won. Nine of the 12 drivers in the Chase for the Championship crashed. And NASCAR came away with one of the most competitive races in its 60-year history. There were 28 leaders.

Rookie Regan Smith passed Stewart in the final 300 yards for an apparent win, but Smith drove below the out-of-bounds line to get there. That sent Stewart to Victory Lane for the first time this season, and it helped Jimmie Johnson build a little cushion in the playoff standings.

Stewart had been second six times at the 2.66-mile racetrack. He crashed in practice Friday, but his Joe Gibbs Racing team repaired the car in time for the race. Once the race started, Stewart did the rest by avoiding a pair of massive pileups. He shot to the lead on Lap 174, just a couple of seconds before Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle started a 10-car crash that involved three other drivers who are in the Chase for the Championship.

Stewart led the final 17 laps, including two in overtime.

"It's one thing to get back to Victory Lane, but to do it at Talladega wow," Stewart said.

Smith said he was forced out of bounds when Stewart swerved left to block Smith's advance.

"I knew I was going to get one shot at him," Smith said. "I always thought the rule was if you get forced down there, then you are the winner of the race, and anything on the last lap goes."

Apparently not. Smith was eventually credited with an 18th-place finish.

It got so wild that Johnson fell one lap behind while trying to stay clear of the three- and four-wide racing.

By staying out of trouble, Johnson finished ninth and extended his lead over Edwards in the standings to 72 points.

Racing at Talladega means flirting with disaster, and Sunday's race was no different.

A combination of exploding tires and a multi-car wreck turned the final 200 miles into a battle for survival.

The problems with tires started on Friday, when Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s right-rear tire blew apart and started a big crash in practice.

The problems continued during the main event.

David Reutimann, Mike Wallace, Brian Vickers, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray all had tire blowouts and crashed.

Reutimann's blowout triggered a nine-car accident that sent Jeff Gordon's car headfirst into the outside wall.

"Everything was going the way we wanted to go," Gordon said. "That's part of racing at Talladega."

Gordon returned about two hours later, only to blow the engine in his Chevrolet and finish 38th.

Vickers was running second when the right-front tire on his Toyota exploded on the 68th lap, sending his car across the track and starting a nine-car pileup. …

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