Stewart's Winless Streak Ends In Controversy

Tony Stewart saw his 43 race winless streak end Sunday afternoon at Talladega.  But not without controversy.  NASCAR disallowed a last lap pass by rookie Regan Smith, giving Stewart his first Talladega victory.  Meanwhile, many of the championship contenders had problems Sunday, allowing Jimmie Johnson to gain some distance from the rest.

Tony Stewart is no stranger to controversy.  He has done or said things numerous times that has gotten him in hot water with NASCAR and some of the fans.  One thing that he is a stranger to is not winning.  Stewart had a 43 race winless streak going into Sunday's Amp Energy 500.  He also had never won at Talladega.  Both of those trends ended Sunday with-what else?-controversy.

On the final lap of a green-white-checker finish, Tony Stewart was leading the pack, trying to hold them off.  Rookie Regan Smith was right on his bumper throughout the final circuit.  Into the tri-oval, Smith started to go to the high side before darting low.  Here is where the controversy comes into play.  As he went low, Smith clearly went below the yellow line, which NASCAR calls "out of bounds".  There is no argument there.  The argument is whether or not Stewart forced Smith below that yellow line.  In those cases, NASCAR could rule in that way and not call a penalty.  Replays do support that argument.  However, NASCAR ruled it an illegal pass, thus giving Tony Stewart the win.  Regan Smith would be credited with an 18th place finish.

It was a wild afternoon at Talladega.  There were ten cautions for 41 laps.  There were two "big ones" and two red flags.  Tire issues were also a story.  The third caution was brought out when David Reuitmann blew a tire, which led to a spin for Jeff GordonJimmie Johnson's front end splitter was damaged, but was able to continue.

The first "big one" brought out the fourth caution on lap 69.  At the front of the field, Brian Vickers had a tire blow, causing a chain reaction that also included Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr, Aric Almirola, Jamie McMurray, David Gilliland, Mike Skinner, Tony Raines, and Terry Labonte.  That wreck caused the red flag to come out for 17 minutes. 

The other "big one" was caution #9 on lap 175.  This one would turn out to be big in the championship standings.  Greg Biffle got spun out, collecting Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Reed Sorenson, Joe Nemechek, Dave Blaney, Travis Kvapil, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Michael Waltrip.  Edwards took the blame for the incident.  The red flag returned, stopping the race for 12 minutes.

Tire failure on lap 100 caused Denny Hamlin to slam the wall hard.  He would stay at an area hospital overnight.

Behind race winner Stewart, Paul Menard finished second with David Ragan third.  Chase drivers and teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer finished fourth and fifth.  In spots six through ten were Bobby Labonte, Scott Riggs, Robby Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Elliott Sadler.  For the other drivers in The Chase, Kyle Busch finished 15th, Kevin Harvick 20th, Greg Biffle 24th, Matt Kenseth 26th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 28th, Carl Edwards 29th, Jeff Gordon (engine failure) 38th, and Denny Hamlin 39th.

The Talladega aftermath had a major effect on the Chase standings.  Jimmie Johnson was the major benefactor, increasing his lead in the standings over second place Carl Edwards to 72 points.  Greg Biffle remained third (77 points back) while Jeff Burton stayed in fourth (99 back).  Clint Bowyer moved two spots to fifth (152 back) while Kevin Harvick slipped a spot back to sixth (171 back).  Tony Stewart was the big mover, going up four places to seventh (203 back) with Jeff Gordon back two to eighth (232 back).  Matt Kenseth is ninth (245 back), Dale Earnhardt Jr. tenth (249 back), Kyle Busch 11th (331 back) and Denny Hamlin 12th (335 back).

For this week, both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series will be under the lights at Charlotte.  The Nationwide Series will race Friday night in the Dollar General 300 with the Sprint Cup Series Saturday night in the Bank of America 500.

By:  CrimsonCowboy

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