Stewart Claims First Talladega Win
Polesitter Tony Stewart held off a last-lap challenge from Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Saturday to claim his first victory at Talladega Superspeedway in any series.
|Tony Stewart wins at Talladega|
"Boys, we won at Talladega!" Stewart shouted as he crossed the finish line in the Aaron's 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race .302 second ahead of runner-up David Stremme. It was Stewart's third NASCAR Nationwide win of the season.
Bobby Hamilton Jr. ran third, Jason Leffler fourth and Mark Green fifth, as Earnhardt dropped to sixth after Stewart repelled his last-ditch run on the final lap.
"I didn't think leading was the place to be," said Stewart, who led Earnhardt to the line for a restart with two laps to go in the 117-lap event, after a caution for debris in Turn 4 had slowed the race on Lap 113. "I still don't think, even after winning the race, that being the leader there with two laps to go was the right place to be.
"But we did what we had to do, and they got spread out behind us, and we got the push we needed there at the end."
Earnhardt surged to the front on the final lap but faded on the outside when Stremme stayed with Stewart on the bottom of the track.
"Me and Tony worked great together the whole race," Earnhardt said. It was down to the last lap, and I thought we had it timed good, but my run wasn't as strong as it could have been -- and Tony was just so strong."
The entire complexion of the race changed dramatically in an instant, 12 laps past the halfway point.
Stewart was leading Earnhardt through Turn 1 on Lap 71 when Kevin Lepage pulled onto the track from the pit road into the front of the field and triggered a chain-reaction pileup that collected 15 cars, including the contending vehicles of Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, David Reutimann, Steve Wallace, Reed Sorenson and Kyle Busch.
Casualties of the wreck included six of the top 10 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings entering the race and the other two drivers of the Wallace contingent -- Mike and Kenny -- all of whom were running in the top 10 when the melee occurred. Mike Wallace sustained minimal damage and was able to continue.
Notes: Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing entry, was injured during a crash on Lap 11 of Saturday's race. Franchitti blew a tire, hit the outside wall and slid down the track in Turn 3 into the path of Larry Gunselman, whose No. 91 Ford slammed into the driver's side of Franchitti's Dodge. Conscious and alert, Franchitti was taken to an ambulance on a stretcher and transported to a local hospital for further evaluation. Gunselman likewise was taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
NASCAR announced that Franchitti suffered a fractured left ankle and minor contusions. He was expected to be released from the hospital Saturday evening but will not race in Sunday's Aaron's 499. Stremme, who drove for Ganassi last year, will replace Franchitti. Stremme needed approval from Rusty Wallace Inc., his Nationwide team, and from Penske Racing, whom he recently signed with as a test driver, to have the opportunity.
Clint Bowyer entered the race as the series points leader but was caught in the same wreck that sidelined Franchitti. After repairs to his No. 2 Chevrolet, Bowyer returned to the track and finished 25th, helping him hold on to the top spot in the standings.