Stewart close to first Championship title

Stewart close to first Championship title

All Tony Stewart needs to sew up his first NASCAR Winston Cup title is a 22nd place finish or better at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend. He can also come home with the big check if he finishes 24th or better and leads one lap, or finishes...

All Tony Stewart needs to sew up his first NASCAR Winston Cup title is a 22nd place finish or better at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend. He can also come home with the big check if he finishes 24th or better and leads one lap, or finishes 25th or better and leads the most laps.

Tony Stewart.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

In testing at Homestead last week, Stewart posted the fastest lap around the 1.5-mile track of 36.18 seconds for a speed of 149.354 mph in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac.

"I want to win that thing," said Stewart about next Sunday's race. "We went and tested this past week there and we were fastest in testing. I feel like we can win that race. We've dominated there in the past and I think it's time we get our crown there."

Stewart has been superior at Homestead, with two race wins in 1999 and 2000; Stewart is upbeat about his chances next weekend. "I'm looking forward to coming back here," said Stewart. "This is a place we've run well at so for us it's a confidence boost to know that the last race of the year is one we've run well at."

"We won here the first two years," Stewart continued. "Last year we dominated before we had tire problems. We enjoy coming here but the obvious question is 'Why do we come here to test considering we've been so good here?' We just want to try to make sure we stay as good as we've been."

His eighth-place finish this past weekend at Phoenix, coupled with Mark Martin's fourth place effort, puts Stewart 89-points in front of Martin.

Martin still has the chance to steal the championship and hopes to run the best race he and the Roush Racing No. 6 Ford Taurus team can accomplish. However, the championship is Stewart's to lose.

"We started off the year pretty darn good," Martin said. "We had a lot of bad luck in the summer and that dropped us back, but I'm very pleased with where we're at right now. You could certainly say we didn't fall off at the end. We've been fighting back hard."

Stewart's crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, is still trying to approach things cautiously as the Winston Cup teams head into the 36th and final race of the 2002 season. Zipadelli is not quite comfortable with just an 89- point lead over Martin.

"It's going to come down to both of us running good at Homestead and seeing where we end up," commented Zipadelli. "You can stand in my shoes if you want. I won't feel comfortable until (next) Sunday night - 89 points is just not a guarantee. If we go down and run as good as we tested there, we should have a strong, top-five car. But it (the points lead) is not enough to have a problem. There is not enough of a points gap, so we've just got to go down, stay out of trouble and just race hard and clean next week."

While Stewart is seemingly trying to approach all of this with good humor; he is still superstitious on talking too much about the finale which would be the apex of his Winston Cup career.

"Nope. I don't want to talk about it even." said Stewart. "I think we can win the race at Homestead next week, and that's the way I want to finish my year out."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing