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Tony Stewart answers questions in post race interview.
Tony Stewart answers questions in post race interview.
July 29th 2007 - By:  Mark W. Theisen

     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA:  Indiana native, two time NASCAR Nextel Cup champion and 2005 All-State 400 winner Tony Stewart made it look easy today overcoming a race marred by nine caution periods to win his second All-State 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by 2.982 seconds over 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner and Nextel Cup rookie Juan Pablo Montoya.

     Starting 14th Stewart was in the top five by lap 10 and led a race high 65 laps in overtaking Kevin Harvick after an exciting 10 lap battle on lap 150 that resulted in some fender banging but the outcome was never really in doubt as Stewart was able to overcome any adversity thrown at him today.

      Reed Sorenson, at age 21, became the youngest pole winner of a major event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday when his lap of 184.207 earned him his first career Cup pole in 57 tries who along with Montoya, his teammate at Ganassi Racing brought the field of 43 down for the start of today’s race.

      With rain washing out all of Friday’s practice and with very little rubber on the track NASCAR announced that the race would begin with two competition yellow flags coming at laps 20 and 40 to inspect the tires and see to it that the abrasiveness of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would not affect the tires in any way.

     Sorenson paced the first 16 laps of the race and when Jeff Green blew a tire and smacked the wall in the third turn the scheduled competition yellow turned into the first round of pits stops and at the conclusion of the stops it was Stewart in front of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sorenson, Jeff Burton and Montoya.

     Earnhardt made a quick move under Stewart on the restart and was able to take the lead at the end of the first lap back under green.   Ryan Newman lost the rear of his car on lap 21 and hit the wall in the fourth turn causing enough damage to finish his day very early.

     The second competition caution on lap 40 turned into the third full caution when Kasey Kahne lost the air on his car and spun collecting Tony Raines in the process with both cars sustaining heavy damage.

     The ensuing pits stops saw Earnhardt lead the way off pit row followed by Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Montoya and Jeff Gordon with Truex’s two tire pit stop go for naught when he was caught speeding off pit row sending him to the back of the longest line for the restart.

     Earnhardt could only lead three laps on the restart before an eight car incident in the first turn slowed the race for the fourth time in just 43 laps.  That accident was triggered when Jamie McMurray lost the air off his car when attempting to pass his teammate, Matt Kenseth.  His spin collected Jimmy Johnson, Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd, Scott Riggs, J.J. Yeley, Kyle Petty and Carl Edwards with the cars of Johnson, Rudd and Elliott showing the most damage.

     Johnson, the defending race and series champion, was able to stay on the lead lap as his crew worked to repair the damage and keep him in the race.

     Only three laps into the next restart saw another major accident set off in the first turn when Casey Mears, Elliott Sadler, Johnny Sauter and Petty all came together after Mears was nudged from behind as the field, tightly bunched up after the restart, began to jockey for positions.

     Stewart took the lead out of the pits for this caution period followed by Montoya, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Burton and Truex.  Kenseth, fighting an ill-handling car all race long used pit strategy to gain the third spot but once the rain resumed he began to quickly fall back in the field.

     Two laps after the halfway mark Johnson’s day ended in spectacular fashion in the second turn after his right rear tire blew sending his car solidly into the wall erupting in a ball of fire.  Johnson was unhurt in the accident but his day was over.

     Debris slowed the pace of the race twice; on lap 77and again on lap 91 and it was only strategy gambles that took Stewart out of the lead.  Greg Biffle’s two tire stop on lap 91 gave him the lead that he was able to hold on to for 11 laps before being run down by Harvick and passed on lap 103.  Harvick, the 2003 winner of the 400, was then pressed by Stewart, who made his first pass of Harvick for the lead on lap 111.

     The first real stretch of green flag racing saw the races only pit stops under full speed begin on lap 123 with Kyle Busch inheriting the lead on lap 127 when Stewart made his stop.  When the series of stops cycled through on lap 129 it as Stewart back in front of Harvick, Gordon, Montoya and Sorenson.

     Earnhardt’s day ending on lap 137 when the engine let go on his car bringing out the final caution of the race which also set up the final pit stops of the event.  After leading 33 laps early on Earnhardt rolled over some rumble strips in the first turn that damaged the front valance on his car and thus ruined his aero package that rendered him unable to stay with the leaders.

     Harvick was able to use the restart to get a jump on Stewart and he was in front for the next ten laps as Stewart took several attempts at a pass before making a full assault that resulted in the two bumping fenders on lap 150 before Stewart took the lead for good.

     Harvick’s car suffered enough damage that he began a slide back in the field ultimately winding up in seventh at the end.

      Stewart, who was swept up in the emotion of winning his first at race at his home state track in 2005 was calmer today and that showed in the end as he comfortably drove the final laps to finish ahead of Montoya, Gordon, Busch and Sorenson for his second win of the season both coming back to back.

     “Our car was awesome today,” said Stewart.  “It was good in traffic and I was the only car that could stay with a car that was leading and that is the best feeling that a driver can have.”

      “I was fortunate enough to battle a good friend in 2005 when I bested Kasey (Kahne) and today in Harvick,” continued Stewart.  “He is a hard guy to pass and I enjoy racing with him.  He knows what to do when he is ahead and I just stayed patient and looked for a way around him.  He came back on me and I expected that, he is a racer and I had fun.  I felt I had the car all day long and I just had to keep it in one piece.”

      For Montoya, who has already won once in his rookie season on the Cup series, it was a day of mixed emotions?  “I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot but can only wonder what it could have been,” said Montoya, who after his Indy Racing League career went on to race in Formula One for three years before returning the United States this year opting for a NASCAR Cup career.

     “We kept working on the car all race long,” Montoya continued.  We put soon much track bar in the car at the end but just could not get the car right.  Tony (Stewart) had the car to beat and we had nothing for them but to come back and finish second shows we are moving in the right direction.”

     The learning process especially on the smaller tracks has been demanding but where Montoya has experience, road courses and large tracks has paid dividends.  “I hope that we can continue to build on what we are doing right now, because it is fun.”

     Gordon, the series point leader, was pleased with his finish.  “We were the fastest car at the end of the race,” said Gordon.  “We worked on the car all race long and had it where we wanted it be but I have to tip my hat to Tony (Stewart) he had the best car and he deserved to win.  I could have caught him but I doubt that I could have passed him.”

     Busch’s best finish at Indianapolis was brought about by late race strategy that saw him stop after on the final caution when the leaders stayed on the track.  “I felt that new tires were the way to go at the end,” said Busch.  “I hoped that others would come with me so I didn’t have to pass so many cars at the end but I was coming but just not fast enough to be a threat.”

     For Sorenson, who has had and up and down two years on the Cup circuit was happy after the race.  “It was good!” said Sorenson.  “We lost a little bit of the track there in the middle of the race and came back there at the end and were terrible after all those early cautions but those long green runs at the end of the race brought is back.  With Juan taking second and our team finishing fifth, it shows our team is working hard and it is finally showing.

     Mark Martin, Harvick, Burton, Dave Blaney and Kenseth rounded out the top ten with Kenseth crediting his finish to his crew and not the handling of the car.

    Wisconsin’s Scott Wimmer started 22 and finished 31st after sustaining early race damage with Sauter taking 37th after losing countless laps in the pits following his involvement an accident.

     Gordon leads Denny Hamlin by 371 points leaving Indianapolis.  Kenseth slipped to third, 377 points behind.  Despite his engine failure and 34th place finish, Earnhardt maintained 12th and final position in battle for the Chase for the Cup the final 10 races of the season as the series heads to Pocono, Pennsylvania next week.

     Stewart’s win today was his 31st victory in 304 NASCAR Nextel Cup series races and he ranks 20th on the all-time wins list, one behind Dale Jarrett.