Stewart Survives Talladega

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Tony Stewart made the most of the final four laps of Sunday's EA SPORTS 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway, darting and weaving his way from 10th to third to secure his second top-three finish in as many weeks.

The four-lap dash was set up after a spectacular accident that sent Elliott Sadler's #38 Ford airborne down the back straightaway on lap 181. With a large group of cars making up the lead pack, Sadler veered to the left where he was tagged from behind by the Ford of Kurt Busch. Sadler turned sideways at 190 mph and left the ground, flipping seven times before finally coming to a rest.

Sadler was helped from his destroyed race car and flown to the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham, where he was evaluated and subsequently released.

The remnants of Sadler's car were strewn all over the backstretch, and after a few laps under caution, NASCAR officials waived the red flag, briefly halting the 188-lap race. Upon cleanup of the 2.66-mile oval, racing resumed on lap 185.

Stewart, whose #20 Home Depot Chevrolet had yet to be a factor in the race, used every racing line imaginable during the last four laps - running low and then high - before tucking in behind restrictor-plate ace Dale Earnhardt Jr. to cross the finish line third when the checkered flag waved. Michael Waltrip took the win.

"It was typical Talladega," said an enthused Stewart from pit road. "It was fun. If you don't get excited about that, then I don't know what there is to get excited about. Everybody was going left, everybody was going right, nobody knows where they're going to finish. That's the great thing about this kind of racing."

Stewart's Sunday went much better than his Saturday, as a severe migraine kept the reigning Winston Cup champion out of the car for both practice sessions. Veteran driver Kyle Petty made some laps during the first practice session, while Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte spent the last 10 minutes of final practice in The Home Depot Chevrolet.

"It was pretty tough for us as a team, considering I didn't get to practice the car yesterday," said Stewart. "I was sick with a migraine and really was going through a lot of pain. I didn't even get in the car. I want to thank my teammate, Bobby Labonte, and Kyle Petty, who drove the car about six laps total. I just didn't know what to expect. I didn't get any practice yesterday with the new spoiler and I didn't know how well the car would or would not suck up to the cars in front of us.

"When we came in on the first stop, the water temperature was real hot. We pulled some tape off the grill and it killed our car as far as the ability to draft up to cars in front of us. From that point on, we weren't really that strong a car. We pretty much stayed at the back of the lead pack. We made a couple of good charges up to the front just to see if we could get up there. We could get part of the way there, but if we ever got stalled we were stuck, and we'd fall all the way to the back of the pack again.

"The crew had a really good stop on our last pit stop, got us out first of the cars that pitted. We restarted 10th and got up to fourth or fifth and just stayed around the top-10. We got the red (flag) and we knew that we were going to have to take everything we could get. If you had a little bit of a run on a guy, you had to take it."

Stewart found his longtime drafting partner Earnhardt, and the two hooked up in their drive for a win.

"Dale and I have run together religiously for two years now when it comes to plate races," said Stewart. "He knows when he's in front of me, if he pulls out I'm going with him. And I know if he's behind me and I pull out, he's going with me. It's an advantage for me because we work so well together that he has the confidence to go ahead and pass cars and have security knowing he has a partner. But that's something that was hard today. You didn't always have a partner when you pulled out. But Dale and I finally got together and made it work right on the last lap, and that last lap was a big lap for me, getting back up to third. We tried to get Dale a win, but we couldn't get him past the 15 car (Waltrip)."

Waltrip's victory was his fourth Winston Cup win, all of which have come at restrictor plate venues. Behind Earnhardt and Stewart were Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon, who finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Stewart's third-place run bumped him up one spot in the championship point standings to ninth, 71 markers arrears eighth-place Kurt Busch and 60 points ahead of 10th place Terry Labonte. Fifth-place Ryan Newman is ahead of Stewart by 282 points.

And despite suffering his first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season at Talladega, point leader Matt Kenseth maintains a healthy advantage over second-place Kevin Harvick. He has a lead of 354 points with seven races remaining, meaning that Kenseth's magic number is ninth.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the Oct. 5 Banquet 400 at Kansas Speedway. Live coverage by NBC begins at 1 p.m. EDT.

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