Stewart Sets Sights on Second NASCAR Title Home Depot Driver Takes 52-Point Lead Into Season Finale at Homestead AVONDALE, Ariz., (Nov. 13, 2005) - Tony Stewart's fourth-place finish in Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup...
Stewart Sets Sights on Second NASCAR Title
Home Depot Driver Takes 52-Point Lead Into Season Finale at Homestead
AVONDALE, Ariz., (Nov. 13, 2005) - Tony Stewart's fourth-place finish in Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway means that a ninth-place finish in next Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway is all he needs to secure a second Cup Series championship.
The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing continued his front-running ways at the 1-mile oval, logging his 19th top-10 finish in the past 21 races to open up a 52-point lead in the championship standings. It was yet another example why Stewart, the 2002 Cup Series champion, has led the point standings for 14 of the last 15 races.
"It was a solid day for us," said Stewart, who started ninth in the 312-lap race. "The car was really good on long runs, but it still needed to be faster. If you tried to make it cut through the center (of the corner), it was probably going to make it freer up off. And if you tried to give it more forward bite off (the corner), it was probably going to make it tight in the center. But we kept working on it. The '16' and the '5' were the class of the field, but we did what we had to do and gained some points."
The '16' was Greg Biffle, who finished second while getting credit for leading the most laps. The '5' was rookie Kyle Busch, who won while leading the second most laps. As those two drivers battled for the lead, Stewart widened his margin over his nearest point pursuers - second-place Jimmie Johnson and third-place Carl Edwards.
Both of those drivers ran well, but in a microcosm of the season and the 10-race Chase for the Championship, Stewart ran better, with his fourth-place effort augmented by the fifth-place finish of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte.
In one of his best runs of the season, Labonte passed Johnson for fifth on lap 291. Labonte held the position while a hard-charging Edwards passed Johnson for sixth. The two-position advantage over Johnson meant a gain of 14 points for Stewart.
"I ran the race like I would any other race," said Stewart, who climbed to as high as second by lap 163. "We're just doing the same things we've always done. We just went out and raced and tried to get to the front.
"We'll stick to the same game plan we have for the past 35 races. Next week won't be any different. We're going to go out there and try to win the race. If we can't win, we'll go for second. If we can't get second, we're trying for third. If not third, we'll take whatever we can get. That's as simple as it's going to be."
Busch's win in the Checker Auto Parts 500k was his second career Nextel Cup victory and the 140th for car owner Rick Hendrick. Biffle finished second, while Jeff Gordon, Stewart and Labonte rounded-out the rest of the top-five. Comprising the remainder of the top-10 were Edwards, Johnson, Robby Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Travis Kvapil.
Live coverage of next week's Ford 400 begins at 4 p.m. EST on NBC.