Tony Stewart wins his own dirt-track charity race
ROSSBURG, Ohio -- It's quickly becoming home-field advantage. Tony Stewart knows every dimple on the dirt track at Eldora Speedway -- and it shows.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader took only 13 laps to vault from sixth place to first and then pulled away to win the Gillette Young Guns Prelude to a Dream on Wednesday night. It was the second year in a row that Stewart won the charity race on the track he owns and the third time in the five-year history of the race.
Does his familiarity with the track give him an edge?
"There's no doubt about it. It's definitely an advantage for sure," Stewart said. "This is not an easy place to get around. It's an easy place to make a mistake at."
Twenty-two drivers in late-model stock cars competed in the 30-lap contest.
Stewart overtook Kenny Wallace on the 13th lap and never looked back. Clint Bowyer finished second, and Kyle Busch was third.
Stewart moved into second place by the 12th lap. After taking the lead from Wallace on the next lap, Stewart extended his lead and was never seriously challenged after that.
"The top (of the track) was so much faster," Stewart said. "It made for a really good race -- guys moving around and trying to find a spot on the bottom to get by. We got very, very lucky that Clint and Kyle went to the bottom at the same time on the same corner, and we were able to run around the top pretty hard and catch Kenny."
However, Stewart said his victory wasn't pretty.
"It was a lot of luck because I tore the race car up pretty bad," he said. "I hit the wall on the first two starts pretty hard and bent the suspension on the right front and bent both wheels. So it wasn't a clean race on my part by any means."
Wallace had to pull out of the race on the 20th lap after he and Bowyer bumped cars.
"It's disappointing because I take this as a real race," Wallace said. "We led. Tony was just really fast. He got by us. And then Clint got into my left rear and flattened it out. So it was a real bummer."
Following his victory, Stewart climbed the chain-link fence in front of the grandstand and shook his fist in celebration.
The race fell three days before the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway, where 11 drivers are vying for the remaining eight spots in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship. Only four drivers have clinched spots: Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
Of the 11 drivers who haven't clinched spots, six competed in the charity race -- Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch and David Reutimann. Johnson and Hamlin were also in the race.
Drivers have said the contest on Stewart's half-mile, high-banked oval track carved out of farmland takes them back to their roots, when they drove in local, short-track weekend races.
On dirt, drivers must steer right for the car to go left. Going through turns, the front left tire comes off the track and the left rear tire provides traction. And the short 30-lap race gives drivers precious little time to make their moves.
The cars weigh about 2,300 pounds, supply 800-plus horsepower and, at Eldora, reach top speeds of about 150 mph. The vehicles have two-speed transmissions and no windshields -- only short plastic shields to protect drivers from rocks.
Stewart won last year's race by grabbing the lead in the first lap and leading the rest of the way. He also won in 2006. Carl Edwards won in 2007, and Wallace in 2005.
This year's race was originally scheduled for June 3, but was rained out.
Proceeds from the race will go to groups whose missions are to assist the families of soldiers who have died serving their country and to severely injured military personnel -- Wounded Warrior Project, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Operation Homefront and Fisher House.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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