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Chase This! Stewart Out-fuels Field at Kansas to Win Banquet 400

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Date: Oct. 1, 2006
Event: Banquet 400 (Round 29 of 36)
Series: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Location: Kansas Speedway in Kansas City (1.5-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 21st/1st (Running, completed 267 of 267 laps) With little to lose and everything to gain in Sunday's Banquet 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, Tony Stewart and The Home Depot Racing Team gambled that their No. 20 Chevrolet Monte Carlo had enough fuel to make the final 71 laps around the 1.5-mile oval. Their gambled paid off, but just barely. Stewart led the final five laps of the 267-lap race and coasted across the finish line with an empty tank to score his 27th career Nextel Cup victory and his third this season. "When we were coming down the backstretch, I asked how many laps we had left and they said, 'You're coming to the white (flag),'" said Stewart, who came from 21st in the 43-car field, the farthest back a race winner has started at Kansas. "It started losing pressure when we went into turn one. Then it caught up for a second, but as soon as we came off turn two, it lost pressure immediately. I kicked it out of gear right away and just got down low on the race track to take the shortest distance around. We just coasted around and hoped we had enough of a lead to stay out front." Stewart did, beating Casey Mears to the finish line by 12.422 seconds. The margin of victory, while large, was still a nail-biter. As Stewart coasted, Mears had a full head of steam. But Stewart's lead was so large - thanks to staying on the race track and not pitting like everyone else - that he was still able to stay ahead of Mears, whose second-place finish tied his career best effort in Nextel Cup. Out of the Chase for the Championship for the first time in Stewart's eight-year Nextel Cup career, points are disposable for the first time in his career. Eleventh is the best point finish Stewart can earn, and with a 270-point lead over 12th-place Greg Biffle, it's win or bust for the two-time and reigning series champion. "We had nothing to lose today," said Stewart. "Not being in the Chase gave us that opportunity to go ahead and run for it. We were able to take a chance that we wouldn't have been able to if we were running for the championship. "We had a top-five car at the end of the day, no doubt about it. But today was our day. We were in a situation where Jimmie (Johnson) had the fastest car and checked out, but they had to play the fuel mileage game and they couldn't take a chance. That played into our hands for a change. "This isn't the first time a race has been won on fuel mileage. We were just in a position where we were able to take that chance, and if it didn't work out, then it didn't work out." "The pressure is off of us," added crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "We kind of have the attitude to do whatever we can to win. We did what we had to do today. I am really proud of this team. We had a top-three or four car all day. The No. 48 car (Johnson) was definitely the class of the field there at the end, but we gambled, and for once it paid off for us. We probably cut it a little close, but it still worked out for us. I'm going to celebrate with my boys." Zipadelli's "boys" were the pit crew. The orange-and-black attack from Joe Gibbs Racing performed flawlessly, delivering quick stops throughout the 3-hour and 17-minute race. "This was the best day for pit stops all year, so I think that's huge for our team," said Stewart. "The other thing is that Bob Nardelli, our CEO of The Home Depot, has not missed a race since the Chase started. Even though we're not in the Chase, he's been to all three races. It just shows how dedicated he is to this program and how supportive he is. We've had a lot of awesome e-mails from the associates at The Home Depot supporting us even though we missed being in the Chase. So I think having him here today and the last three weeks has really meant a lot to our team. The guys showed it today by having awesome pit stops and giving me a great race car." Stewart's victory placed him 20th on NASCAR's all-time win list, tying him with Rex White. It was also the 52nd Nextel Cup win for Joe Gibbs Racing. Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - finished 18th and 41st, 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 gained two spots to climb to second in points, 69 markers behind series leader Jeff Burton. Yeley held steady at 28th in points, but now sits 136 points outside the top-25. Rounding out the top-five behind Stewart and Mears were Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett and Burton. Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr., comprised the rest of the top-10. The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule - the fourth race of the final 10-race Chase for the Championship - is the Oct. 8 UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The race begins at 2:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by TNT.

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