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Stewart, Wallace bump and bang

5/3/2004

FONTANA, Calif. -- For the second straight race, Tony Stewart was involved in some bumping and banging on the track and became the object of a rebuke by another driver.

A week earlier at Talladega, it was Kurt Busch who criticized
Stewart for wild driving after the former series champion hit
Busch, starting a 10-car crash.

Stewart was warned twice by NASCAR to calm down during that
event and then hit Terry Labonte in a post-race accident when
Stewart tried to take a shortcut to the pit lane to avoid debris on
the track.

He was called to a private chat with NASCAR officials Friday at
California Speedway, but there was more of the same Sunday. Stewart
banged together with both eventual race winner Jeff Gordon and
Rusty Wallace in separate early accidents.

"I don't know what's wrong with that guy," said Wallace, still
angry with Stewart after being knocked out of the race later when
Busch hit the wall and slid right in front of Wallace's
already-damaged No. 2 Dodge.

"He's really been messing up a lot lately," Wallace added.
"He got me in the back at Martinsville. He caused a huge wreck
last week at Talladega and then he runs me right through the fence
this time. ... Then he pulled up beside me and starts flipping me
off on the restart.

"I wanted to get out of the car and whip his rear end. The kid
needs to calm down a little bit. ... He's really frustrated for
some reason."

Stewart, who finished 16th, a lap behind the leaders, was not
apologetic, saying Wallace was at fault, too.

"We came off (Turn) 2 and we got together and that put him in
the wall, but the corner before that he drove right down into the
left side of us like we weren't ever there," Stewart said. "So I
don't know why he's pointing the finger at somebody else.

"I got underneath him and I got loose coming off of 2. I
didn't try to get into him."

Stewart's boss, J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, said
the driver's spotter took the blame for Stewart hitting Gordon and
that the bumping with Wallace was just a racing accident.

"Obviously, that's just racing," said Gibbs, son of team owner
Joe Gibbs. "When you look at the race, there's stuff going on all
over the place with people hitting guys. Tony is about as certain
as they come on the racetrack. That's just his history. It'll blow
over in a little bit and, hopefully, it'll only be talked about
until Wednesday."

Everyone will get a chance to cool off this week, with a rare
weekend off before the next race at Richmond, Va., on May 15.

Better times coming

Kasey Kahne figures his first win in
NASCAR's top stock car series can't be too far away.

The 24-year-old rookie went into Sunday's Nextel Cup race at
California Speedway with three runner-up finishes and a third place
already on his resume in only nine starts.

For a while, it looked like he was going to improve on that
record with a win in the 10th try, starting from the pole and
leading 77 of the 250 laps in the Auto Club 500 before fading
toward the end on the hot slippery track.

He wound up a very disappointing 13th, the last driver on the
lead lap, after having to pit for gas on the last lap.

"I'm not sure what happened out there," said Kahne, who has
replaced former series champion Bill Elliott in Ray Evernham's No.
9 Dodge. "We just got tight after that last stop and that impacted
our fuel mileage. That's why we ran out of gas."

The finish didn't get Kahne down, though.

"Once we win the first race, it will make it a lot easier to
win the second time," the precocious youngster said. "We've put
ourselves in position in a lot of races and have come out short."

Hard hit
Stanton Barrett was taken to a nearby hospital for
observation after a one-car crash early in Sunday's race.

Barrett, who makes his living outside of racing as a Hollywood
stuntman, was stunned by the crash, but officials said he never
lost consciousness and was taken to Loma Linda University Medical
Center as a precaution. He was later released.

As hard as the hit was, it could have been worse. Barrett's
Chevrolet hit nose first into one of the recently installed SAFER
barriers, intended to lessen impact in crashes.

Spark plugs
The 15 lap leaders tied the California record set
in 2000. ... When Ken Schrader stayed on track during a caution and
held the lead for one lap near the middle of the race. It was the
first time he had been out front since the 2002 Daytona 500. ...
Terry Labonte's seventh-place finish was his first top 10 of the
2004 season. ... The track announced a sellout of its 91,000 seats,
but there were hundreds of empty seats by midway through the race
with temperatures approaching 100 degrees.