With Said on standby, Stewart delivers win
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Tony Stewart knew he was in trouble shortly after the start of the race, but overcame an upset stomach to win Sunday at Watkins Glen International.
"It started about the 15th or 17th lap,'' he said. "It got better toward the end but I still don't feel well.''
Stewart went back to his hauler as soon as he exited the car after winning the Sirius at the Glen. He was driven back to his motor coach in a golf cart to change his uniform and attempt to recover.
That delayed his celebration in victory lane, marking the third straight week that has happened in NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson was fined $10,000 for violating protocol two weeks ago at Pocono by obscuring the product of a rival sponsor with a placard of his own.
Last week, Jeff Gordon stayed on the track at Indianapolis until the TV coverage ended. He said he was overcome by the emotion of his victory in the Brickyard 400, apologized and was not punished.
Asked if he really went back to his motorhome because he was playing the same game, Stewart, a practical joker, smiled broadly.
"No, I just wanted to go back and brush my hair and look good for you guys,'' he said.
The team had road-course ace Boris Said standing by, but released him after the final pit stop. Stewart realized with about 12 laps to go that he was going to finish, although he said that distance seemed like an eternity.
His pain eased somewhat after he was given something to drink, and Stewart said he wanted to stay providing a lack of concentration didn't drastically reduce his lap times.
He also said word during the race that he also had leg cramps was not accurate and that he felt it was important to stay in the car with victory in the offing for his team.
"These guys have never given up on me, no matter what has happened, and I'll never give up on them,'' he explained. "I wasn't going to take a win away from them.
"It's hard to say how close you are. Either you're in or you're out. But there's no substitute for being in the lead, that's for sure.''
It was the second win for Stewart in the race, one of two road-course events each year on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit. He has three victories in that discipline.
The 2002 series and Watkins Glen champion also got his second win of the season and the 19th of his career.
Stewart, who started fourth after qualifying was canceled because of a wet track and the field was set by car-owner points, led 46 of 90 laps on the 11-turn serpentine layout. His Chevrolet beat that of road-course star Ron Fellows by 1.517 seconds.
"We had to work hard, but I just didn't have enough left for Tony after that last caution,'' Fellows said. "They gave me everything I needed in a car, but I'm disappointed.
"Obviously, we were second best.''
Stewart made sure of that, keeping Fellows well behind him in the closing laps. Finally, he let up and Fellows closed the gap but had used up his car in moving from the back of the field to the front.
"He wasn't going to get by us,'' Stewart said.
Polesitter Johnson blew an engine for the second week in a row but held the top spot by 40 points because teammate Gordon had a transmission problem late in the race. Gordon finished 21st and Johnson 40th.
The series standings will be reset after four more races to five-point intervals among the top-10 drivers. They alone will be eligible to run for the championship over the last 10 of 36 races.
"I just made a mistake,'' Johnson said. "We tried a little different shifter. I came from second trying to hit third and fell right into first.''
Gordon slowed dramatically near the end to keep running. But he didn't use the mechanical problem as an excuse.
"We had a good car, but we didn't have enough car for Tony today,'' he said.
Stewart showed his muscle right from the start. Gordon passed Johnson on the second lap, but Stewart got by both of them for the lead before they got back to the line. Stewart went to the lead for the final time by passing Mears on the 76th lap.
Stewart averaged 92.249 mph in a race slowed five times by 11 laps of caution. There were 13 lead changes among nine drivers.
Defending race champion Robby Gordon wound up 16th.
Earnhardt remained third and Stewart fourth in the standings. They were followed by Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, Busch and Harvick. Bobby Lebonte is ninth, and Mayfield the last of the top 10 in points.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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