WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. &
Tony Stewart can't wait to start the Chase.
Trailing leader Jeff Gordon by two car-lengths with two laps to go Sunday at Watkins Glen International, Stewart stared in amazement when Gordon spun out on his own entering the first turn on the 11-turn road course and went on to win the Centurion Boats at The Glen.
It was the third victory in four races for Stewart, who is on one of his midsummer rolls with only four races remaining before the Chase for the Nextel Cup title begins.
"You see how easy a streak can end and go the opposite way," said Stewart, a two-time Cup champion. "Once the Chase starts, I feel like we're in the best position of anybody. We just have to keep our fingers crossed."
Gordon's bobble was stunning, especially to Stewart.
"He's the last guy you expect to have a problem like that," Stewart said after his 36th career victory, tying him for 19th all-time with Dale Jarrett. "Trust me, I was probably the most shocked person. Our only shot of getting by him was to keep the pressure on him and hope he'd make a mistake."
For Stewart, who spun out in the same place as Gordon while leading earlier in the race and dropped to 19th, it was his sixth win on a road course. That ties him for second all-time with Richard Petty, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, and Bobby Allison.
"I think our car was a tick better than Jeff's, but if Jeff doesn't make that mistake, we run for second," said Stewart, who has won four of the last five Cup races at Watkins Glen and finished second a year ago to Kevin Harvick. "You were going to have to be a bunch faster to get by him."
Even though Gordon has a commanding lead in the points and became the first driver to clinch a spot in the Chase after finishing ninth Sunday, it was a bitter disappointment. He seemed set to extend his Cup record for road course victories to 10 before making that uncharacteristic mistake on that hard 90-degree right-hand turn.
"I wanted that win real bad," said Gordon, who has four wins at The Glen. "Points don't mean anything. I pushed and pushed too far.I don't like making mistakes. That mistake is not a difficult one to make. That corner is ridiculously difficult and I knew I needed to make sure I didn't do it. I didn't do it all day until it came down to when it counted. What happened is the team deserved to win and the driver didn't get it done."
Despite the setback, Gordon still posted his 20th top-10 in 22 races and is tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson with four wins, tops in the series and one more than Stewart.
The top 12 drivers in the standings after 26 races will race for the title and the points for every driver will be reset at 5,000. But each win counts for an extra 10 points once the Chase begins.
"We gave up 20 (points) because I didn't get the 10 that would have kept him (Stewart) from getting the 10," Gordon said with a laugh. "Had I won, I would have been 20 more points ahead of him than I am now. I'd probably rather have the trophy than the bonus points. I think we can beat him in the final 10 races."
All but assured of a spot in the Chase, both Stewart and Edwards fought hard for the victory on the last lap. Edwards made a desperate final try in the rapid four-turn Inner Loop coming out of the high-speed esses.
"I just figured, the heck with it," said Edwards, who went off course and finished eighth. I just didn't want to finish second."
Denny Hamlin ended up second, Jimmie Johnson was third for the best road course finish of his career, Canadian road race ace Ron Fellows was fourth, and Robby Gordon fifth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a big blow to his chances of making the Chase. After complaining in practice about how bad his car was handling, Earnhardt turned things around in the race and was running up front much of the day. But while running third behind Gordon and Kurt Busch, the engine in the red No. 8 Chevrolet blew, ending his day on lap 63. He finished 42nd.
It was the fifth DNF of the season for Earnhardt, and four have been engine-related. He entered the day trailing Busch by seven points for the 12th and final spot in the standings and dropped to 14th, four points behind Ryan Newman and 100 points behind Busch, who rallied to finish 11th after being penalized for speeding on pit road and remained 12th.
"I was hoping for a good showing and have something to be proud of," Earnhardt said. "I'm kind of disappointed. We have a couple of races left and there's no telling what will happen in those."
Rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, who won a Busch Series race in Mexico and the Cup race at Sonoma in June, was bidding to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win three road races in a season. He failed in Saturday's Busch race, finishing 33rd after being involved in an accident, and on Sunday he had another altercation.
Montoya and Harvick got together with less than 20 laps remaining in the 90-lap event while both were running in the top 10, and ended up in a shoving match after their cars got banged up. Harvick finished 36th and Montoya was 39th.
Tony Stewart masters Watkins Glen again
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. &