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Stewart again rules the road

By John Kekis
Associated Press / August 11, 2009

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - When the rain held off and The Glen heated up, Smoke was in his element.

Tony Stewart won the rain-delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International yesterday, muscling an ill-handling car in the early going and then holding off Australian Marcos Ambrose over the final 21 laps for his Cup-record fifth victory at the famed road course.

“I love it when it gets slick,’’ Stewart said after his 36th Cup win. “There’s just something about this place. We’ve been really good.’’

Stewart has finished first or second in eight of the past 11 Cup road races, but had to keep the hard-charging Ambrose at bay. Ambrose won the Nationwide race here Saturday with a daring move that surprised Kyle Busch for the lead, and he finished third a year ago in the Cup race after starting last.

“I was watching [Ambrose],’’ Stewart said. “I think we were stronger in the parts we needed to be and we never looked at the fuel.’’

It was Stewart’s third win in his first season as an owner-driver and the seventh road course win of his career, second to four-time Watkins Glen winner Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR-record nine. Stewart has six consecutive top-two finishes at Watkins Glen, also winning in 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2007 and finishing second in 2006 and 2008.

All of Stewart’s previous success at The Glen came with crew chief Greg Zipadelli at Joe Gibbs Racing. Darian Grubb was atop the pit box this time for Stewart-Haas Racing.

The two-time Cup champion always seems to peak in the hot days of summer, and he’s right on schedule. Stewart has finished fifth or better in eight of his past 10 starts, all top 10s, and leads Jimmie Johnson in the standings by 260 points. All he has to do Sunday at Michigan is start the race to secure his spot in the 12-man Chase for the Cup title.

“We’ll keep working hard. That’s what we have to do,’’ said Stewart, who led 34 laps. “We’ll be focused on what we’ve got to do next week. We’ve got to do what got us to the dance.’’

The race originally was scheduled for Sunday, but a string of thunderstorms forced it to yesterday.

Ambrose was second, a career best, and Carl Edwards third. Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, Max Papis, Clint Bowyer, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10. Polesitter Jimmie Johnson, seeking his first career road win, finished 12th.