®lfc ,3lnhtana (gazette SPORTS Saturday, October 26, 2002 - Page 21 Rain washes out qualifying ATll MOTOR By MIKE HARRIS AP Motorsports Writer HAMPTON, Ga. — Tony Stewart was smiling and appeared relaxed as he talked amiably about heading into the last four races of the season at the head of a tight championship chase. Stewart, who leads runner-up Jimmie Johnson by 82 points and is only 177 ahead of fifth-place Ryan Newman, will start from the pole Sunday in the NAPA 500, thanks to another qualifying rainout. On and off rain throughout Friday limited the Winston Cup cars to one late-afternoon practice, then washed away the first-ever night qualifying at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It is the third time in four races and the fifth time this season that NASCAR has determined the lineup for a race using car owner points following a rainout of qualifying. It also means the drivers involved with Stewart in the title battle — Johnson, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Newman — will be able to compete wheel-to-wheel from the start of the 500-mile race on die fast 1.54- mile quad-oval. And Stewart certainly isn't buying the talk that he has the championship wrapped up. "No, we're basically taking the approach that got us here, and. that's just to try and win each race," he said. "Today, we were second quick on the qualifying practice sheet.... We're basically taking the attitude that the reason we got here is because we raced hard each week, and that's what's going to carry us the rest of the way, hopefully." Bill Elliott, who will start 11th, was fastest in the practice with a lap of 190.955 mph in a Dodge. He was followed by Stewart at 190.3G5, Dale Jarrett's Ford at 190.208, Michael Waltrip's Chevrolet at 189.662 and rookie Newman's Taurus at 189.487. NASCAR WinstonCup Series Johnson, also a rookie, struggled a bit in his Chevrolet. His fast lap of 187.862 was 21st among the 51 drivers who made laps Friday. Stewart, who began the year with a last-place finish in the Daytona 500 and didn't take the points lead until Oct. 6 in Talladega — the 30th race of the year — said he is a bit surprised to-find himself in this position. "I think it just shows that there's no set pattern of what to do to win a Winston Cup championship. There's no blueprint," Stewart explained. "Everybody says that if you finish an average of seventh or better, then you can win the championship every year, but it's just not mat way." Referring to teammate Bobby Labonte's championship in 2000, Stewart added, "The year that Bobby won the championship, he and Dale Earnhardt were the top two and didn't have a DNF (did not finish) at all. We've got six DNF's this year and we're leading, so there's no pattern." Most observers figure Stewart, who has not been in this position before, has to be feeling the pressure. "Tony and his team are racing to win, but there is a ton of pressure to not lose the Championship," said Benny Parsons, the 1973 Winston Cup champion who is now an NBC analyst. "People say, 'It's their championship to lose'.'" Parsons added, "If something was checked twice before, now it'll be checked four times. Every move they make will be scrutinized because every move they make may mean the championship." Stewart, who has won four U.S. Auto Club championships, as well as NASCAR Winston Cup driver Ward Burton, right, served as the best man, as Wendell Neal kissed his new bride Lee Gregory after the two were married at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday. (AP photo) the Indy Racing League title, insists there is no extra pressure. "I haven't been in this position before in Winston Cup, but I have run for championships in other divi- sions," he said. "I haven't been nervous or uptight about it — there's too many races left. "Four races isn't a lot, obviously, hut it is when the points are as close as they are. That's what's kept me in the frame of mind to keep on doing what we're doing. We're not going to try and reinvent the wheel in the next four weeks." Stewart's multiple personalities shine through By RICK MINTER Cox News Service ATLANTA — To understand the enigma of Tony Stewart — if that's possible — it helps to look at last weekend. He was a virtual recluse at Martinsville Speedway, despite being the Winston Cup points leader entering the Old Dominion 500. lie wouldn't talk to the media, or even issue comments through Pontiac representatives — almost unheard of for a championship contender. But on Saturday night, at a short track in nearby South Boston, Va., where the USAC Midget cars Stewart once drove were running, Stewart couldn't have been more public. He signed autographs, walked the pits visiting with friends and chatted at length with some of the same reporters who he wouldn't talk to at Martinsville. So which is the real Tony StewarlV . Both, it seems. "At times he can charm the worst cynical person in the world, and at other times he can insult the nicest person in the world," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president. In four years on NASCAR's elite circuit, Stewart has produced some of its greatest moments on the track but some of its worst off. He is often portrayed as NASCAR's bad boy — although series officials like Hunter say that actually helps the sport at times. Many, including Hunter, say he is riot as bad as his reputation. But everyone agrees that Stewart, who enters Sunday's NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway with an 82-point lead in the standings, can have his ill-mannered moments. Stewart, 31, admits he's had a hard time adjusting to the role of superstar. So he's decided to concentrate on what he knows best. "My strength is driving a race car, and my weakness is being a politician," said Stewart. "Anything that has to do with politics, I'm not going to deal with." This summer he sought help for anger management after he hit a photographer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That incident brought a $10,000 fine and probation from NASCAR, and a $50,000 penalty from his sponsor, Home Depot. He's also been accused of shoving a female fan in Bristol (he was cleared by a grand jury) and an ambulance driver at New Hampshire (NASCAR investigated and look no action). It's made for a long season, despite the on-track accomplishments. "This series doesn't get any easier," said Stewart. "New hurdles present themselves each week. We've had a target on our back the whole year." In the past few weeks, Stewart has vowed to put distractions behind him and focus on winning his first Winston Cup championship. As Lowe's Motor Speedway president H_A. "Humpy" Wheeler points out, Stewart isn't the first NASCAR driver to have a hard time adjusting to success. "Everybody that has won a bunch of races from 1980 on has been confronted by quite a bit of this (attention)," he said. "I think Cale (Yarborough) had to make some adjustments. Darrell Waltrip certainly did. Even though it seems that he was born to it, he had to adjust his thinking and his life. "Rusty Wallace had ;;ome times when he had to talk to himself, and even though Bobby and Terry Labonte are sort of matter-of-a-fact about everything and don't seem to get excited on the surface, underneath they do." Wheeler said NASCAR's superstars, past and present, usually surround themselves with people to help them with their job demands. In most cases, Wheeler said, the key person is the driver's wife. That may help explain why Stewart, who is single, struggles where others succeed. "The role of the wife is the most underplayed thing in racing," Wheeler said, adding that the spouse often serves as the only coach a driver has. Sometimes that coaching applies to media relations, too. To Stewart and his team, dealing with the media isn't a big part of having fun at the track. "It's not about dealing with the Tony Stewart holds a slim edge in standings. media, it's about driving race cars and winning races," he said, adding that there are some members of the media who he doesn't mind working with and others that he plans to ignore based on his previous dealings with them. "People have to be a little bit upset, but by gosh, we're going to do it our way from now on." Those who know him say Stewart is capable of putting his troubles behind him. the NASCAR Winston Cup points (AP photo) "Anger management is going to be the key thing," Wheeler said. "Can he do that? That depends on the help he gets and how bad he wants to change." Stewart, who looks to win his fourth race of the season on Sunday, said he's learning from his problems, and even sees some positives. "The good tiling about all this is it has made this whole race team stronger, given us all direction," said Stewart. Speedway debate continues By KEITH PARSONS AP Sports Writer HAMPTON, Ga. —The controversy over a second Winston Cup race for Texas Motor Speedway just won't go away. NASCAR released a tersely worded statement Friday in response to a motion filed earlier in the week by Speedway Motorsports Inc. in a lawsuit brought by one of its shareholders. Francis Ferko of Piano, Texas, sued NASCAR in February for failing to deliver a promised second event for the track owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. Ferko also made claims of alleged antitrust violations. The lawsuit listed NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports as defendants, requiring both to respond. In its filing Wednesday, SMI said the track was built "after assurances from NASCAR that a new Winston cup date would be created." The motion also said NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. "promised" the track a second Winston Cup race "no later than 1999." NASCAR said it never assured the track of a second date and has asked the court to dismiss Ferko's lawsuit. "SMI doesn't seek to better the sport but only to enrich itself at the expense of the sport and its fans," the statement said. "In contrast, NASCAR's strategic approach to expanding racing locations has fostered strong, sustained growth and greatly enhanced competition throughout motorsports." Musical crew chiefs Michael McSwain, crew chief for Ricky Rudd and Robert Yates Racing, interviewed with Joe Gibbs Racing and could be in line to become Bobby Labonte's new crew chief. Current crew chief Jimmy Makar will move into a management role with the team next season. "I can't deny that he's one of the guys we talked to," Maker said. "There's five guys we've talked to, ali qualified and all potentially good candidates. We're excited there's that many people with an interest in our team." Makar wouldn't identify the others he had interviewed. He said a couple of them, including McSwain, were under contract for next season with their current team. All the final candidates would come from outside of loe Gibbs Racing, Makar said. McSwain declined comment, but Yates said he expects him to stay. "That's what we're signed up to do," Yates said. "It's nice to have people after you, it means you're doing something right. But I think we can put that (rumor) to bed." Welcome back Derrike Cope, out of action since September after he broke his right shoulder blade and the fibula in his left leg in a crash in Richmond, Va., got back behind the wheel for the first time. He'll start Sunday's NAPA 500 from the 41st spot on the grid. "Getting out in the car during practice arid getting bounced around a little bit, I'm a little sore," Cope said. "But I can't wait for the race. I'm ready to go." Buckshot Jones was to make his first start since being fired by Petty Enterprises in April, driving a car owned by Michael Waltrip. But with qualifying canceled by rain, Jones didn't make the field. Also missing the race were Geoffrey Bodinc, Frank Kimmel and Busch Series regulars Greg Biffle, Scott WImmer, Kerry Earnhardt, Jack Sprague and Ron I lornaday. Parry, Herron lead at Buick Challenge By The Associated Press PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. — Craig Parryshotan 8-under64 Friday to'tie Tim Herron for the lead after two rounds at the Buick Challenge. Parry, who won the NEC Invitational at Sahalee two months ago for his first career PGA Tour victory in 235 starts, matched his lowest round ever on tour. The Aussie is al 13- under 131 at Caliaway Gardens. Herron, who took the first-round lead with a 63, made five birdies Friday and finished with a Gil. Phil Mickelson shot a 67 and is a stroke behind the leaders. Gray skies, a soggy golfcourse from a steady mist and soft greens allowed players to take aim at the flags. More rain is expected over the weekend, so the starting times have been moved up to 8 a.m. today, and 7 a.m. Sunday, when daylight-saving lime begins. Jonathan Byrd had a 66 and was al 11-under 133, while the group at KM included David Toms (68), Chris Riley (66) and J.L Lewis (6fi). Senior-Tour Championship OKLAHOMA CITY — Hale Irwin moved a bit closer to senior tour history, shooting a 5-under-par 67 in his second round of the day lo take the lead midway through the rain-dc- Golf roundup layed Senior Tour Championship. Irwin, seeking to become the first senior golfer to win $3 million in a season, has a iwo-round lotal of 7- under 137. Thai was one shoi better than defending champion Boh Gilder and Gil Morgan, and iwo ahead of Larry Nelson. Irwin needs to finish fourth or better in this season-ending event to eclipse $3 million. He and Gilder have each won four times this year and are leading contenders for player of the year. They played 36 holes togeiher Friday afler not getting started Thursday because of heavy rains that caused the round to be suspended. LPGA Nine Bridges JEJU IS1J\ND, South Korea — Se Ri Pak delighted ihc South Korean fans by shooting a 7-under 65 lo take a four-stroke lead in the Nine Bridges Classic. Pak, coming off a victory two weeks ago in the Tournament of Champions in Mobile, Ala., had eight birdies and one bogey in her opening round on The Club at Nine Bridges course. Jackie Gallagher-Smith and Crislie Kerr each had a 69. Six players arc Federov, Red Wings whip Penguins Craig Parry hit out of the sand on the ninth hole in the second round of the Buick Challenge on Friday. (AP photo) five slrokes behind Pak. Annika Sorenslarn, Pak's playing partner, shot a 73 and was eight strokes back. Sorenstam is seeking her 10th LPGA title of the year. She would need to win the final four events of the season lo lie ihc lour record of 13 viclories, set by Mickey Wright in 1963. Madrid Open MADRID, Spain — Irishman Padraig Harrington and South African Trevor Immelman shared the lead Friday at the Madrid Open, where 32 players could not complete the second round because of fog. Harrington carded a 5-under-par 66 on the 6,957-yard Club de Campo course to stand 11 under at 131 after 36 holes. Immelman birdied the final hole for a 65. He and Harrington were a shot ahead of Irishman Des Smyth, who carded a 63. Buy.com Championship PRATTV1LI.E, Ala. — jay Dclsing eaglecl the 18th hole on his way to a tournament-record 63 to take the second-round lead at the Buy.com Tour Championship. Delsing, who was lied for 31st after an opening-round 73, has a one-shot lead over Mike Ileinen, Eric Meeks and Jeff Klauk. The top 15 on the Buy.com money list earn their PGA Tour cards for 2003. By LARRY LAGE AP Sports Writer DETROIT — Sergei Fedorov beat the Pitlsburgh Penguins al their own free-wheeling game. Fedorov scored three goals as the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings beat Pittsburgh 73 on Friday night, snapping the Penguins' five-game unbeaten streak. "It was not a tight- checking game," Fedorov said. "There was lots of room." That was the problem, said Pittsburgh coach Rick Kehoe. "He's a world-class player and when you allow him to wheel around like that, he's going to do damage," Kehoe said. Luc Robilaille scored the tying and go-ahead goals 53 seconds apart midway through the first lo pui Detroit ahead for good as the Red Wings ran their undefeated streak to four games. Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux had two assists for an NHL-leading 16 points. He played in his first game in Joe Louis Arena since Feb. 27, 1997, and left impressed with Fedorov. "He was awesome," Lemieux said of Fedorov. "The way he skates is dominating, especially in the neutral zone. You can't defend that. He took over the game." Lemieux also planned to play tonighl in Buffalo after nol playing back-lo-back games last season, when a hip injury limited him to 24 games. "That's obviously something I have to do more," Lemieux said. Fedorov had his fifth career hat trick, scoring all three goals in the second period. "He's unbelievable," Pittsburgh goalie Jean- Sebastien Aubin said. Fedorov's first was on - a rebound off Darren McCarty's slap shot. Fedorov then carried the puck from the left circle to between the circles and used a defender and a teammate as shields to sneak a backhander past Aubin. The Detroit star's third was a one-timer on a give-and- go play with Brendan Shanahan. "i tried lo play an aggressive game," Fedorov said. Detroit's Manny Legace, starting in place of Curtis Joseph, made 24 saves. Pittsburgh's Alexei Kovalcv scored two goals to extend his goal streak to four games. Fedorov and Kovalev both have six goals.
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