Kenseth Rises In Phoenix

AVONDALE, Az. - All eyes were on the championship battle but Matt Kenseth wasn't interested in anything but making it to victory lane.

Kenseth and crew chief Robbie Reiser used a late race two tire pit stop to take the lead and go on to win Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. It was the Roush Racing DeWalt Ford's fifth win of the season.

Series points leader Tony Stewart finished eighth but Mark Martin's fourth place run kept him in the hunt for the Winston Cup championship as the series heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway for next Sunday's season-ending Ford 400.

Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounded out the Top 5 at the Phoenix mile oval.

"It's been an unbelievable year -- a dream season," Kenseth said. "I never thought we'd have the opportunity to get here once, never mind five times -- unbelievable."

"We put on two at the end of the race and we were able to run lap times that were way faster on two than we would have been putting on four. It was the right thing to do at that point in the race," Kenseth said.

Stewart marched toward the front after starting 16th was able to work his way into the Top 10. His efforts payed off as, despite Mertin's Top 5 finish, Stewart was able to keep a comfortable lead in the championship.

Heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway, Stewart leads Martin by 89 points. He can now finish only 22nd and not a lead a lap to clinch his first title.

"Just another day in paradise," said Stewart as he climbed from his Home Depot Pontiac. "We had a pretty good racecar today and we're glad to come out of here with a Top 10. We'll just go to Homestead, a track a like alot, and see what we can do."

It was a bittersweet day for runnerup Wallace, who has one more chance this season to extend his consecutive season win streak to seventeen. Wallace also tok two tires on his last pit stop but was unable to run down Kenseth.

"This is a good car and we'l take it Homestead next week, but we really thought we had a chance today," said Wallace. "The two tires got us out where we wanted to be, but we just didn't have anything for Matt there at the end."

Maybe the strongest car of the day belonged to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who had a possible victory taken away on an early race mishap. Earnhardt's Budweiser Chevrolet ran out of fuel while leading at the first round of pit stops, a mistake that sent him back to ninth place and forced Earnhardt to play catch-up all afternoon.

"We're lucky we were able to stay on the lead lap after that," said Earnhardt. "We did good to wind up where we did but it could have been a better day."

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