Stewart, Wallace bump and bang
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
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."
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.
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.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press