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No more dread for Stewart

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000


He liked the people in Martinsville, Va.

But the track?

Tony Stewart dreaded going back to the .526-mile oval this season after two of his four worst finishes came there in 1999.

On Sunday, Stewart completed a turnaround by winning the NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

"I think that as a team, this is the track where we have made our biggest improvement," said Stewart, who finished sixth in the spring race.

"Now, we've got a good race under our belt and we kind of have an idea of how to approach every race when we come back. So, it gives you a little peace of mind. It gives us something to keep in the back of our heads on what we've got to do when we come back."

HANGING AROUND: Dale Earnhardt's chances at an unprecedented eighth Winston Cup championship are fading with just six races left.

Not for lack of effort.

Earnhardt finished second, gaining 36 points on the leader, but trails by 213 points.

"Bobby's got to keep finishing behind us," Earnhardt said. "We've got to keep gaining."

A 200-point deficit isn't insurmountable, as Alan Kulwicki proved in 1992.

With six races remaining that year, Kulwicki came from 278 points down to climb from fourth in the standings to first, beating Bill Elliott by 10 points for the championship. STILL IN IT: Though Gil de Ferran doubled his lead in the CART points standings with a third-place finish on Sunday in Houston, nine drivers mathematically have a shot to win the series championship. Among them is Jimmy Vasser.

The Las Vegas resident became the record 10th different driver to win a CART race this season by winning Sunday.

It marked his fifth straight top 10 since being told by owner Chip Ganassi that his contract would not be renewed. Vasser pulled within 36 points of de Ferran.

Vasser is scheduled to test for Ganassi's new Winston Cup team on Friday at USA International Speedway in Lakeland.

Ganassi bought the two-car team, formerly Team SABCO, from Felix Sabates. The seat in the No. 01 Chevrolet is available after Kenny Irwin's death this year at New Hampshire International Speedway.

SPECIAL SEVENTH: Want proof that Gary Scelzi's record seventh Top Fuel win of the season was special?

Don Garlits, Darrell Gwynn, Gary Ormsby, Joe Amato, Eddie Hill, Scott Kalitta, Cory McClenathan and Scelzi all won six Top Fuel races in a season. Scelzi was the first to get to seven.

"To accomplish anything in your career that compares with the guys on that list of six-time winners is really something," said Scelzi, a two-time champion who set the record Sunday at Topeka, Kan. "To pass the mark is unbelievable.

"Breaking this record, I guess because it's such a unique deal, compares right up there with my first professional win or even the first championship. It was so hard to do."

PIT NOTES: With his eighth career Winston Cup victory, Stewart moved into a tie with Jim Reed and Kyle Petty for 47th on the all-time list. ... After enjoying 25 straight races without a DNF, Winston Cup driver Ward Burton has three in a row after he finished 43rd at Martinsville. ... With his 15th-place finish in Houston, Kenny Brack, who drives for Team Rahal, clinched CART rookie of the year honors.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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