Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stewart Edges Martin for Title

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stewart Edges Martin for Title

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Coble, Times-Union sports writer

HOMESTEAD -- Stock-car racing got a new champion yesterday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, and in the process it may have gotten a glimpse of a champion in the making.

Tony Stewart clinched the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship by finishing 18th in the Ford 400, and Kurt Busch closed out the season with his third victory in the last five races to solidify his position as a leading contender for next year's title.

After finishing 27th in the standings during a disappointing rookie season a year ago, Busch rallied from 12th place to finish third in the final championship standings. He did it by winning four races and finishing the season with eight top-seven finishes in the last 10 races.

"What a day, what a year, what a transition from that rookie year," the 24-year-old driver said.

Busch started on the pole, fell out of the top five during the middle of the race, then used a two-tire pit stop at the end of the race to put him in position to win.

Ryan Newman skipped that final pit stop during a caution for John Andretti's blown engine. Although that gave him the lead, it meant he had to finish the final 38 laps on old tires. Busch, who took on two tires in the final stop, re-started second.

"I wore Ryan down," Busch said. "I love race strategy. I was focused today on third place in the points. When I finally blocked that out, that's when we went. I love to manipulate people to get them to move their cars around by making them think. I knew he was on old tires, so I had time on my side."

Busch pressed Newman for several laps until Newman's tires were too hot and too worn to fight back. Once Busch got around him with 11 laps to go, he took off to a comfortable 150-yard cushion over Joe Nemechek to earn $297,100.

Newman, who vetoed car owner Roger Penske's advice for new tires, faded to a sixth-place finish.

"We developed this loose condition I wasn't expecting," Busch said of his mid-race problems where the rear tires lose traction in the corners. "There was a struggle throughout the day to get the car right. [Crew chief] Jimmy Fennig made the right calls and got it right. We kept working on it. …

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