© St. Petersburg Times, published September 16, 2002
LOUDON, N.H. -- Once again, Tony Stewart put off-track distractions aside and staged a magnificent charge through traffic to finish third in the New Hampshire 300 on Sunday.
Stewart is on probation from NASCAR for punching a photographer in Indianapolis and is under criminal investigation for allegedly shoving a fan in Bristol, Tenn. On Saturday, the Concord Monitor quoted an emergency medical technician as saying Stewart punched him in the arm after crashing out of the New England 300 in July.
NASCAR said its investigation produced no conclusive evidence against Stewart, who has declined to talk about the accusation.
He didn't appear at a postrace news conference Sunday, instead commenting through a statement from his public relations representative. He said his determination as a racer helps him.
"When it comes time to be in the race car, that's what I do," Stewart said. "It really disturbs me when we've been accused of this stuff, but at the same time we can't let it get us down."
He had already established that. A week after the August altercation in Indianapolis, Stewart came through with an emotional victory in Watkins Glen, N.Y. He nearly did it again at New Hampshire International Speedway, but his late charge at winner Ryan Newman ended when the race was stopped after 207 laps because of rain.
BONUS GROWS: The Winston Cup leader bonus went unclaimed for the 22nd straight race and will pay $230,000 on Sept. 22 at Dover International Speedway to any driver who wins and leads the series standings.
The payout would eclipse Bobby Labonte's $190,000 windfall two years ago for winning the Brickyard 400.
The only driver this season to claim the prize was Sterling Marlin, who got $30,000 for winning in Las Vegas and $20,000 two weeks later in Darlington, S.C. The prize money increases by $10,000 per race.
SKINNER'S STATUS: Mike Skinner's body didn't give out. His car did.
Skinner, still sore from a fiery crash while practicing last week at Kansas Speedway, entered the race not knowing if he could finish or would need a relief driver. He never got a chance to find out, and was more disappointed by the mechanical woes of his Chevrolet.
"Our car was good enough to run 10th or 12th, but something happened in the engine," he said.
COURTING HORNISH: Sam Hornish Jr., who captured his second consecutive IRL championship, is being considered for Hendrick Motorsports' No. 25 Chevrolet.
Hornish, touted in recent months as a possible driver for Dale Earnhardt Inc. because of sponsorship ties, is a "serious candidate," thatsracin.com reported.
Among other drivers being considered are the team's current driver, Joe Nemechek, Busch series rookie Scott Riggs and Ron Hornaday, a former Winston Cup driver who now races in Busch.
Hornish now drives for Panther Racing in the IRL with sponsor Pennzoil, which also sponsors DEI's car driven by Steve Park.
Hendrick team officials said no decision has been made.
PIT STOPS: The cars of Brett Bodine and Park were forced to go to the rear of the field. Bodine changed an engine and Park was in a backup car. ... Former Winston Cup champion Bobby Allison was the grand marshal.