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Saturday, May 2, 2009
Updated: May 11, 2:14 PM ET
New owner/driver Stewart showing moxie

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

(AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Tony Stewart hasn't won a race in the 14 car, but he has seven top-10s and four top-5s.

Mine That Bird was a 51-to-1 long shot to win the Kentucky Derby yet completed one of the biggest upsets in the 135-year history of the prestigious event.

If Tony Stewart wins the 2009 Sprint Cup championship, 51-to-1 wouldn't come close to covering it.

After 10 races this season, Stewart stands third in the standings, only 39 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.

No one, including Stewart, would have predicted that level of success as a new owner/driver on the team that never was competitive before he took over.

Stewart is a realistic contender for the championship, something most NASCAR observers thought was impossible in this era for a driver doubling as a team owner. Stretching the reach even more, as a new team owner.

The last time an owner/driver won a Cup race was almost 11 years ago. Ricky Rudd was the last man to do it on Sept. 27, 1998, at Martinsville.

Stewart has yet to accomplish that feat, but it's only a matter of time. His second-place finish Saturday night at Richmond shows a victory probably will come soon.

More importantly, a championship is a reachable goal, something Stewart couldn't imagine when his new role began this season.

But Stewart can see it now. Heck, he can almost taste it. That's why winning isn't his top priority.

"I told somebody, I would rather have five second-place finishes in a row than a win, a 32nd, an 18th, a 43rd and a seventh," Stewart said after the Richmond race.

"For us as an organization, it's that momentum. I can't wait to get to the shop Monday and see the smiles on the guys' faces. That's the payoff for me. That's the stuff that will carry us."

Stewart has seven top-10s and four top-5 finishes this season in the No. 14 Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing. Gordon (seven top-10s and five top-5s) is the only driver with more.

What does it tell us?

One, that Stewart is an extraordinarily talented race car driver, proving he can compete up front for an organization that used to be an also-ran at best.

Two, he knows how to build a winning organization by putting quality people in key positions -- Darian Grubb as his crew chief, Bobby Hutchens as director of competition and Ryan Newman as SHR's other driver.

Newman got off to a slow start this season, but he has four top-10s in the past six races, including back-to-back top-5s. He finished fourth at Richmond in the No. 39 Chevy.

"This was a great effort by everyone on our team,'' Newman said after the Richmond race. "If we keep doing what we're doing, we'll get what we want."

What they want is a spot in the Chase, something Newman didn't have his past three seasons at Penske before agreeing to join Stewart in his new venture. Newman ranks 10th in the standings after 10 races this year.

"Having Ryan as a teammate is a huge asset," Stewart said Saturday. "We've worked well together from day one. His depth of knowledge has been a huge asset to me. It's been a huge asset to the whole organization."

Stewart's success is good for NASCAR for two reasons. It proves an owner/driver can make it work at the Cup level. It also shows a second-tier organization can compete with the superteams in Cup if someone like Stewart has the wherewithal to put the right people in place.

"We've got the equipment," Stewart said. "When we do our jobs, the results have shown. I think success has come much quicker than any of us anticipated it would. I'm proud of the whole organization."

Nationwide Series: Full-time Cup drivers 9-for-9

The all-Kyle Busch weekend at Richmond started Friday night with his third Nationwide victory of the season, continuing the Cup drivers' domination of the series.

A full-time Cup racer has won all nine Nationwide events this season. The Friday event was an easy warm-up for Busch, who won the Cup race Saturday night on his 24th birthday.

Busch and Carl Edwards are battling for the top spot, but six Nationwide regulars rank in the top 10 of the season standings, led by Jason Leffler in the No. 3 slot.

One driver who has shown significant improvement this season is Steve Wallace. He finished 11th at Richmond and has three top-10s in nine races.

A rookie to watch is Scott Lagasse Jr., who has three top-10s and ranks ninth in the standings. Lagasse has finished in the top 17 in seven of nine starts, a respectable achievement while racing against so many Cup regulars.

Camping World Truck Series: Next stop ... Lowe's Motor Speedway

The trucks had the week off and will resume racing May 15 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

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Jayski Podcast

Kyle Busch goes unbeaten in Richmond, while Stewart-Haas Racing has another big night. Plus, Carl Edwards' "flower power!"
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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Kyle Busch

Busch

  • Kyle Busch won the Russ Friedman 400 at Richmond International Raceway. It was his 15th victory in his 160th Cup series start and his third win in 2009; he also scored victories at Las Vegas and Bristol.

  • Busch scored his first victory in nine races at Richmond. He had finished second at Bristol three previous times. He became the 46th different winner in 106 Cup races at Richmond.

  • Busch, who started 14th, scored his third career short-track victory in 27 such races.

  • Busch, 24, became just the second driver in Cup series history to win on his birthday. Cale Yarborough, whose birthday is March 27, did so twice. Busch is the youngest driver in NASCAR history to score 15 wins. He also is the youngest to win a Cup race at Richmond. Jeff Gordon was 24 years, 6 months, 28 days old when he won at Richmond on March 3, 1996.

  • Busch became the third driver to score a weekend sweep at Richmond, joining Harry Gant (Sept. 6-7, 1991) and Kevin Harvick (Sept. 8-9, 2006). Busch won a benefit race put together by fellow racer Denny Hamlin at Southside Speedway in Virginia on Thursday night, the Nationwide race at Richmond on Friday night and the Cup race.

  • Busch tied Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson and Greg Biffle with 50 combined NASCAR wins -- 11th all time.

  • This was the 22nd of 106 races at Richmond to be won from a starting position outside the top 10 (21 percent).

  • Busch's victory is the 71st Cup win by Joe Gibbs Racing, which ranks seventh all time. Gibbs scored its fourth victory at Richmond, where Stewart has won three times and Busch has won once.

  • Busch led three times for 53 laps Saturday night, including the final 49.

  • Hamlin led the most laps (148). He has led laps in all seven of his races at Richmond. The driver leading the most laps has failed to win the past seven races at Richmond. For the sixth time in his career and his second time at Richmond, Hamlin led the most laps of a race yet didn't win.

  • The driver leading at the midpoint of the race has failed to win the past eight races at Richmond. Hamlin led 381 laps at Richmond one year ago and finished 24th.

  • Tony Stewart (second) posted his seventh top-10 finish in 2009. It marked his fifth straight top-10 at Richmond. He climbed from fourth to third in points. He has ranked eighth or better in the standings all season.

  • This was the third victory for Toyota in 2009. Chevrolet has four, Ford has two and Dodge has one.

  • Jeff Burton (third) tied his best finish in 2009 set at Las Vegas. Burton has scored eight straight top-15 finishes.

  • Ryan Newman (fourth) scored his fourth top-10 finish in 2009, all in the past six races. He climbed from 13th to 10th in the points standings, making his first appearance among the top 12 since he ranked 11th after the Richmond race in May one year ago. For the first time, Stewart-Haas Racing drivers (Stewart and Newman) scored top-5 finishes in the same race.

  • Jeff Gordon (eighth) took over as the leader of the Cup standings, by 10 points over Kurt Busch, who finished 12th. Gordon has finished 13th or better in eight of the 10 races this season.

  • Casey Mears (ninth) posted his best finish of the season.

  • Clint Bowyer (18th) has been running at the finish in the past 83 races, since Homestead in November 2006, the longest consecutive streak in NASCAR history. Bowyer's last DNF came at Phoenix on Nov. 12, 2006, when he finished 33rd thanks to oil-pump failure. Herman Beam had a personal streak of 84 races in which he competed without a DNF, but those races were not consecutive.

  • Joey Logano (19th) was the highest-finishing rookie.

  • David Reutimann (28th) posted his third finish outside the top 20 in 2009. He dropped from 11th to 13th in the points standings. He ranked 13th after Daytona and had ranked among the top 12 in the past eight races.

  • Bobby Labonte (31st) has been running at the finish in the past 21 races at Richmond, the longest current streak.

  • The 15 caution periods tied the record at Richmond.

  • The top 10 consisted of seven Chevrolets, one Toyota, one Dodge and one Ford.

Nationwide Series

Kyle Busch

Busch

  • Kyle Busch won the Lipton Tea 250 at Richmond International Raceway. It was Busch's 24th Nationwide Series victory in his 147th start. It was his 49th NASCAR victory. He ranks 14th in all-time NASCAR wins across all series.

  • Busch tied Tommy Houston and Matt Kenseth for fifth on NASCAR's Nationwide all-time wins list. It was his third victory in 11 races at Richmond.

  • Busch posted his sixth straight top-10 finish, extending a streak that began at Bristol.

  • Joe Gibbs Racing posted its 32nd series victory overall and fourth Nationwide win in 2009. It was JGR's second win at Richmond. Denny Hamlin won this race in 2008.

  • Toyota scored its second victory at Richmond. Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with 19 wins, followed by Ford with 14. A Dodge has never won a Nationwide race at Richmond.

  • Busch led four times for a race-leading 115 laps, including the final 22.

  • Busch leads the Nationwide standings by 82 points over Carl Edwards, who finished second.

  • Edwards scored his fourth second-place finish this season but has yet to win in 2009. His last NNS win came at Homestead in November 2008.

  • Brad Keselowski (fourth) posted his fifth consecutive top-10 finish, extending a streak that began at Texas.

  • Joey Logano (sixth) posted his fourth consecutive top-10 finish, extending a streak that began at Nashville.

  • Mark Martin finished seventh in his only scheduled appearance in the series in 2009.

  • Michael McDowell (eighth) was the highest-finishing rookie contender of the 10 participating in this race.

  • Jason Leffler (10th) has scored eight straight top-15 finishes, extending a streak that began at California.

  • The top 10 consisted of three Chevrolets, three Ford and four Toyotas. The highest-finishing Dodge was the No. 26 of Brian Keselowski (21st).

-- Racing Resources