ATLANTA -- Tony Stewart, NASCAR’s defending
champion, might not be in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup
this season, but he remains a threat to win week in and week
out. He won Sunday, passing leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. a few laps
from the finish to capture the Bass Pro Shops 500.Jimmie Johnson also passed Earnhardt to finish
third. Earnhardt held off matt Kenseth for third by about one
foot.Earnhardt, who raced with the leaders throughout
the race, stayed on track when the final caution waved with less
than 20 laps to go. All of the other frontrunners chose to pit
for new tires.
Greg Biffle wound up fifth. Trailing Biffle was Jeff Gordon, who
salvaged an outstanding finish after spinning halfway through.
Carl Edwards was seventh, Denny Hamlin eighth, Joe Nemechek
ninth and Robby Gordon 10th.
Mark Martin, in contention all day, was a victim of a multi-car
crash that involved nearly a dozen cars. He slammed into the
wall as cars spun around him but the accident knocked him from a
top 10 finishing position to 36th.
Kasey Kahne was also involved in an accident and finished 38th.
Two other Chase contenders, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, had
terrible days, finishing 31st and 27th, respectively.
With just three races remaining in the season, Kenseth returned
to the top of the standings, followed by Johnson, who is only 26
points behind, Hamlin, Earnhardt and Jeff Burton, who finished
13th. Harvick is sixth, Gordon seventh, Martin eighth, Kahne
ninth and Busch 10th.
The series moves to Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday.
Hard-luck Kyle Busch looped his Chevrolet on the second lap to
bring out the first caution flag of the 325-lap race.
Tony Stewart, who qualified 11th, streaked away to a comfortable
lead once the race restarted, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind
the Home Depot Chevrolet was going for broke on this sunny
Earnhardt Jr., who vowed to take extra chances that might move
him up in the Chase standings, ran with the leaders before a
flat tire sent him to the pits at 33 laps.
He was back up front after the third caution for debris at 76
laps, with Harvick in second and Johnson third.
By the midway point of race, Stewart, Gordon, Earnhardt, Johnson
and Jeff Burton were running a torrid pace, so fast more than
half the starting field was a lap behind, including Chase
contenders Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
On lap 169, Gordon spun and brushed the turn two wall. The
four-time champion had brushed the outside wall off turn four
just a few laps before after making contact with Joe Nemechek.
Kenseth was also having some problems with his DEWALT Ford but
managed to remain in the top 10.
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