Formula One
 Sunday, July 9
Stewart dedicates victory to late rival Irwin
 Associated Press

Inside Track
  • While he says a track never owes a driver anything, let's just say NHIS was a track Stewart was due to win at. He's dominated race, after race, after race, on the mile-oval -- whether it was in the three IRL races he ran, or during his rookie season a year ago when he ran out of gas while leading this race. Sunday, Stewart once again had the fastest car, led the most laps and was in position to win. Now, had the rain stayed away for another 27 laps, we'd be talking about Mark Martin. Stewart wasn't going to make it to the end once again. But when the second red flag came out, Stewart was rescued from another frustrating day at NHIS.
  • Kenny Irwin was on the mind of every driver Sunday. But when Stewart won and Joe Nemechek finished second, the connections to Irwin couldn't be overlooked. Stewart, while a friend of Irwin, was also one of his biggest rivals on the track, dating back to their open-wheel days. Then there is Nemechek, who won his only WC race last fall at NHIS in the No. 42 Chevy Irwin moved into this season.
  • Once again, not much change at the top. Dale Earnhardt finished sixth with Dale Jarrett on his bumper. Bobby Labonte wasn't far behind, either, finishing ninth. Stewart made the biggest jump, from eighth to fifth -- just a point behind Ward Burton -- but still 215 behind Labonte.
    1. Bobby Labonte, 2,670
    2. Dale Earnhardt, 2,625
    3. Dale Jarrett, 2,602
    4. Ward Burton, 2,456
    5. Tony Stewart, 2,455
  • Jeff Burton, the three-time defending champion, finished 11th Sunday, gambling the rain would stop when he pitting under the final caution while running fifth. Burton, however, wasn't in position to win even if the race continued. His teammate had him covered.
  • Over the first 218 laps, it was an equal-opportunity day for drivers to lead the race. Not until Stewart took the lead for a second time on Lap 219 did the race have repeat leader. From pole-sitter Rusty Wallace to Bobby Labonte on Lap 217, a total of 11 different drivers led at least one lap to start the race -- two short of the record.
  • Two of those 11 drivers to lead the race were Ricky Craven, who calls NHIS his "home track," and Jerry Nadeau of Danbury, Conn. Craven, who has run just eight of 18 events this season, led for 63 early laps before finishing a season-best 17th. Nadeau led just two laps, but posted his first top-five finish of the season in fourth.
  • Driving in his seventh race since returning from his horrific truck crash at Daytona to start the season, Bodine led his first 20 laps of the season and finished 13th -- his best run of the season.
  • LOUDON, N.H. -- Tony Stewart believes his sometimes-difficult rivalry with Kenny Irwin was one of the reasons for their rise in the NASCAR ranks.

    So, he felt good about dedicating his victory in the New England 300 on Sunday to Irwin, killed Friday when his car crashed in practice at New Hampshire International Speedway.

    "We weren't always on the best of terms, but we always brought out the best in each other," Stewart said. "We always respected each other."

    Facing a fuel problem Sunday, Stewart got lucky and won the rain-delayed race, which was shortened by 27 laps.

    He dominated, leading 156 of 273 laps. A year ago, a fuel miscalculation by his crew chief cost him the race.

    This time, a decision to remain on the track once he got the lead before the first of two rain-caused red flags, proved decisive. He was happy for crew chief Greg Zipadelli, whose bad math was costly last year.

    But most of all he was happy he was able to come through for Irwin.

    "I want to win this one for Kenny," Stewart said during a rain delay halfway through the event. "I'm sure he's riding along with all of us this weekend."

    Meanwhile, Mike Helton, NASCAR's chief operating officer, said the cause of Irwin's crash remained undetermined. The death came eight weeks after Busch series driver Adam Petty was killed in the same low-banked third turn.

    Stewart's Pontiac, like the cars of the other 42 drivers, had a decal that read: "In Memory of Kenny Irwin."

    Stewart collected $164,800 from a purse of $3.1 million.

    A slightly subdued crowd of 101,000 filed out quietly after NSACAR called the race. There were no post-race celebrations, and Stewart didn't take a victory lap as the rain began to fall harder.

    Stewart and Irwin had raced each other hard for most of the last decade, starting with midgets and sprints before both moved to NASCAR.

    Last October, they banged into each other twice in Martinsville, Va. The second collision sidelined Stewart, who threw heat shields from his shoes at Irwin -- an act that resulted in a $5,000 fine from NASCAR.

    "We had our ups and downs," he said of Irwin. "But it was two guys pushing each other hard."

    Stewart said he was badly shaken by the death of Irwin.

    "It was a wakeup call, a reality check," he said. "I was late getting started this morning because I didn't want to miss all the tributes to Kenny on TV.

    "I still think I'm going to walk around the corner and find him there."

    Last July, Stewart dominated late in the race but lost when he ran out of fuel with less than three laps remaining. His crew inexplicably failed to bring him in for a splash of gas even though he was safely in the lead.

    That blunder cost him what would have been his first career victory. Later, he won three times on his way to a fourth-place finish in the points race -- capping the best rookie season in history.

    This time, he would have been forced to pit with about 20 laps left.

    Stewart, whose victory Sunday gave him a series-leading three, was so upset after losing last year to Jeff Burton that he left without speaking to the media. He later apologized.

    Nine weeks after that 10th-place finish, Stewart returned to New Hampshire fresh from his first career victory, and again attacked this troublesome, 1.058-mile track like few ever have. But an engine problem late in the race relegated him to a second behind Joe Nemechek.

    At the end of the season, Nemechek vacated that car, and the ride went to Irwin.

    The victory Sunday capped an eventful week for Stewart, whose plane had to make an emergency landing Wednesday in Asheville, N.C., when it developed an engine problem en route to a promotional appearance in Evansville, Ind.

    Tony Stewart
    Tony Stewart patiently waits for officials to declare him the winner of the on Sunday.

    Stewart won a rain-shortened event for the second time this season. He took the Kmart 400 at Michigan Speedway last month when it ended with four laps remaining. He also won a week earlier in Dover, Del.

    Nemechek finished second Sunday in a Chevrolet. He was followed by Mark Martin in a Ford, Jerry Nadeau and three-time Loudon winner Jeff Gordon, both in Chevrolets.

    The race was the first of second half of the 34-race Winston Cup season.

    Martin, winless since April, was in a commanding position had the race gone the distance.

    "We started off wallowing in mediocrity and progressively made it better," he said. "The two guys in front of would have had to stop for gas.

    "But it would have been robbery because the 20 car (Stewart) was the class of the field."

    Nemechek wasn't disappointed with his finish.

    "It was one of those-close-but-not enough days," he said. " We put a new motor in it this morning, and we overcame a lot of odds."

    Bobby Labonte, Stewart's teammate, wound up ninth. He leads the series standings by 45 points over seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, who finished sixth.

    Series champion Dale Jarrett, who finished seventh, is 68 points back.

    ALSO SEE 300 results

    Notebook: No progress in Irwin investigation

    Show goes on in wake of Irwin tragedy

    Tragedy strikes twice: Irwin dies in Loudon crash

     Tony Stewart dedicates his win on Sunday to Kenny Irwin.
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