Stewart off to fast start at Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Tony Stewart is on a roll and showing no signs of slowing down.
Stewart, who has won four of the last six Nextel Cup races to vault into the series lead, competed Friday night in the CompUSA 200 of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series and was impressive again.
Because he didn't qualify on Thursday, Stewart had to start last among the 23 Daytona Prototypes in the two-hour race. It didn't take long for Stewart to charge toward to the front. He passed two cars on the first lap, and was ninth by the time he was yanked out of the No. 20 Pontiac in favor of teammate Andy Wallace on the 40th lap.
Stewart, who also will run the Busch Series race on Saturday, even made a pass in the grass to avoid a near disaster when a car spun out in front of him.
"My job was to try to get us as close to the front as I can and let Andy take over from there," Stewart said after his crew slapped him on the back in jubilation. "It makes his job a little easier. It's an awesome start to my weekend."
Wallace lost two spots during the driver swap and made it back to eighth, but Stewart's brush with the grass proved costly. Wallace suffered a suspension failure and slid off course into a gravel trap on lap 64 and didn't finish.
"He did a brilliant save," Wallace said of Stewart, who was picking stones off the front of the car in the pits. "He did really well. I mean, he can drive anything that has wheels on it."
Jeff Gordon hopes to shift gears a lot easier than he did at Sonoma, Calif., in June.
Gordon, NASCAR's all-time leader with eight road course wins, appeared on the way to No. 9 at Infineon Raceway. He led the first 32 laps before problems with the new transmission in his Dupont Chevrolet relegated him to 33rd.
"We changed the transmission," Gordon's crew chief Robbie Loomis said Friday with a painful smile. "I made a choice to go with a different transmission that I thought would help performance and we ended up breaking it. I had to take the fall on that pretty hard."
Gordon, a four-time Cup champion, has been plagued all year by problems. He ranks 14th in the standings but is only 87 points behind Carl Edwards in 10th.
Only the top 10 and any other drivers within 400 points of the leader in the standings will make the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Gordon, coming off an eighth-place finish last week at Indianapolis, remains optimistic with only five races before the cutoff.
"A strong finish here, a top 5, can really do a lot for us," Gordon said Friday. "We're one of the best teams out here. We feel like we've put together a really good schedule to get ourselves back in the top 10. There are some races coming up that are good for us. We've got a lot of things going on that I feel gives us a legitimate shot to get back in."
Johnson gets the green
Jimmie Johnson is back on track.
Johnson, who crashed hard last week at Indianapolis during the closing laps of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, was evaluated Thursday and ran 12 laps in practice Friday on the road course at Watkins Glen International.
"The CT scan that they did on me looked great," said Johnson, who was hurt when his right front tire blew and he slammed the fourth-turn wall on lap 146. "I went to the gym and got my heart rate up and went through some different scenarios to make sure my brain is firing on all eight cylinders. I got the green light, and here I am."
Sorenson on the move
Chip Ganassi Racing made it official that Busch series ace Reed Sorenson will move up to the Nextel Cup circuit, giving the team four cars and a better chance to compete next season in NASCAR's top series.
Car owner Ganassi also said mortgage company Home123 will become a primary sponsor next season for Casey Mears. Busch racer David Stremme is set to drive another Ganassi Dodge.
Ganassi is hoping to improve the performance of his team, which has just five victories since he bought controlling interest from Felix Sabates in 2000. A fourth car and two rookie drivers give Ganassi 15 additional tests next season. He has 27 this year on tracks where the circuit races.
"Certainly, testing helps," Ganassi said. "There certainly is some cookie-cutter ability when you have multiple cars."
But Ganassi, who has won five open-wheel titles as a car owner, knows testing alone won't dramatically upgrade his program.
"A lot of things work from car to car," he said. "Some things don't work from car to car."
The second practice sessions for both the Nextel Cup and Busch series drivers was washed out by an afternoon thunderstorm. Stewart ran the fastest lap among the Cup drivers and Martin Truex Jr. led the Busch session. Buck Baker had a perfect day when NASCAR raced for the first time at the Glen in 1957. He won the pole and led every lap, the only time in history that there were no lead changes here. Sterling Marlin returned to Tennessee to be with his ailing father, former NASCAR driver Coo Coo Marlin.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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