Stewart Poised For Title

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - There's only one thing standing in Tony Stewart's path to a Winston Cup title - Tony Stewart.

If the talented yet volatile driver can stay out of trouble, Stewart can lock-up the NASCAR crown by finishing 22nd or better in Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But staying out of trouble might sound a little easier than it actually is for Stewart. After a season of physical contact both on and off the track as well as legal allegations and anger management counseling, anything might happen.

There was more trouble for Stewart on Saturday. As he ran through the garage area, Stewart ran into a photographer. NASCAR said Stewart apologized for what the driver called an accident, and the apology was accepted by the photographer.

"With Tony's history, had that been any other driver, it would probably have not been an issue," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said.

But it turned out to be an issue, at least for a little while. As Stewart exited his Home Depot Pontiac at the conclusion of Saturday's Happy Hour practice session, he ran into photographer Rusty Jarrett.

"He came out of the garage, raised his arm and put a body block on me," said Jarrett, who was not injured.

NASCAR held a meeting in its hauler in the garage area that was attended by Jarrett, Stewart, team owner Joe Gibbs, NASCAR president Mike Helton, Winston Cup director John Darby and Hunter.

"It was a very candid meeting," Hunter said. "Rusty expressed his opinion on what happened and Tony Stewart gave his opinion of what happened. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes and everybody left there happy. Rusty accepted an apology from Tony. Tony said it was an accident. They shook hands."

Jarrett left the track without making a statement. Hunter said NASCAR considers the matter closed.

It wasn't Stewart's first such encounter. He was put on probation after punching a photographer following the Brickyard 400 in August. He was also fined $10,000 by NASCAR and $50,000 by his sponsor, Home Depot. Stewart said he was undergoing anger management counseling.

NASCAR investigated and found no merit to a claim by an emergency medical technician that Stewart shoved him as he tried to assist the driver following an accident in New Hampshire in July.

In September, a Tennessee grand jury listened to charges that Stewart shoved a female fan following the August race at Bristol, but declined to indict him.

In May 2000, Stewart, angry over losing a race in Richmond, sped into the garage and, after getting out of his car, kicked at a photographer in his way. No penalty was announced.

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