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A Good Run Spoiled: Late-Race Crash Slows Stewart, Ends Shot at Elusive Talladega Victory

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Date: Oct. 8, 2006
Event: UAW-Ford 500 (Round 30 of 36)
Series: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Location: Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (2.66-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 13th/22nd (Running, completed 188 of 188 laps)
Winner: Brian Vickers of Hendrick Motorsports Tony Stewart finished 22nd in Sunday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. It could have been a lot better had it not been for a chain-reaction crash on lap 173 that sent Stewart's No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet into the turn two wall, damaging both ends of his Joe Gibbs Racing-prepared Chevy. Stewart, running 16th and running the high line, was caught in the accident when teammate J.J. Yeley was hit from behind by rookie David Stremme. The contact sent both Yeley and Stremme into the wall, and with Stewart right behind Stremme, Stewart had no place to go. Stewart ran into the back of Stremme and then pinched his car down low to get away from the crash, but spun into the path of Paul Menard, who hit Stewart square in the rear bumper. The damage was severe enough to necessitate three straight pit stops for repairs. At that point, it became a matter of getting whatever positions the team could earn over the final 15 laps. Stewart battled bravely, racing away from the lead pack on the way to the finish - something that turned out to be a good thing. On the final lap just before turn three, Brian Vickers collided with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson while racing for the lead. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was leading Johnson at the end of the backstretch when Vickers - who was running in third - tapped Johnson's car in the right rear corner as he and Johnson attempted to pass Earnhardt. The contact sent Johnson's car into Earnhardt's and both slid into the infield in turn three. Vickers drove to victory, while Earnhardt finished 23rd and Johnson finished 24th. As Earnhardt and Johnson created a cloud of dust as they spun through the infield, Stewart had plenty of time to get slowed up before reaching the scene without worry that another car would crash into him. And with the yellow caution flag waving, the field was frozen, preserving Stewart's 22nd-place standing. In the run-up to the crash that knocked him from contention, Stewart played the usual cat-and-mouse game with the 43-car field. Starting 13th, he quickly dropped a number of positions and just rode near the back, staying out of trouble and working on the handling of his Home Depot Chevrolet. When the time was right and the situation presented itself, Stewart went to the front, leading lap 36 and getting the five bonus points that came with it. Stewart dodged another bullet on lap 137 when a nine-car crash scrambled the field in turn one. Stewart took a shot to the rear of the car as well as the front, but the damage was only cosmetic, and he maintained his track position. Playing a fuel strategy, Stewart topped off his gas tank several times during the final stages, the last coming on lap 151, and he was ready to rock to the end. He rejoined the field on lap 151 in 17th, and his drive to the front was on. In just two laps, Stewart climbed all the way to seventh, and was third the next time by. On lap 157, he was battling for the lead, and had it for three-quarters of a lap, only to lose it at the start/finish line. Running the low line, Stewart found himself all alone on lap 159 and fell back to 16th, where he ran until the crash on lap 173. Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished 21st and 32nd, respectively. Hamlin continues to lead the trio of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the championship point standings, as he is the lone Gibbs representative in the Chase for the Championship. Hamlin dropped three spots to fall to fifth in points, 51 markers behind series leader Jeff Burton. Yeley fell from 28th to 29th in points and is 203 points outside the top-25. Stewart maintained his 11th-place point standing and has a healthy 236-point lead over 12th-place Carl Edwards. Vickers scored his first career Nextel Cup victory by winning the UAW-Ford 500. Kasey Kahne finished second, while Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and rookie Martin Truex Jr. secured the rest of the top-five. Kevin Harvick, Jeff Green, Mark Martin, Edwards and Bobby Labonte comprised the rest of the top-10. The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule - the fifth race of the final 10-race Chase for the Championship - is the Oct. 14 Bank of America 500 at Charlotte (N.C.). The race begins at 7:10 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by NBC.

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