Saturday, November 16, 2002

Stewart outqualifies Martin in NASCAR season finale


Busch earns pole in Homestead race

The Associated Press

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Tony Stewart made things even tougher for Mark Martin.

Winston Cup points leader Stewart qualified sixth Friday for the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, while Martin - the only other driver with a shot at the championship - will start 34th in the 43-car field. Kurt Busch won the pole.

Stewart leads Martin by 89 points and can clinch his first title by finishing 22nd or better in Sunday's race, no matter what Martin does. More bad news for Martin: Stewart won two of the three previous races at the track, after starting seventh and 13th.

"We had a good lap," Stewart said. "We're normally bad to the bone on Sunday here, and our car is really, really good in race trim, so I'm excited about Sunday now."

The championship chase hasn't gone down to the last race of a Winston Cup season since 1997, when Jeff Gordon beat Dale Jarrett by 14 points and Martin by 29 - the closest three-way finish ever.

Martin, though, could get a bit of a reprieve before Sunday's race. A National Stock Car Racing Commission panel will hear an appeal of the 25-point penalty he was given for an unapproved spring on his car at the Nov.3 race in Rockingham, N.C. The three-person panel is scheduled to meet this morning, with a decision expected later in the day.

If Martin gets all of the 25 points back on appeal - which is considered unlikely - Stewart would need to finish at least 13th.

END OF ROAD FOR SPENCER: Jimmy Spencer turned one of his fastest laps of the year and celebrated with a high-five from car owner Chip Ganassi.

Spencer had little to be happy about, however, despite the fact he'll start third at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his final race driving for Ganassi.

Spencer was in the first season of a three-year deal, but Ganassi fired him two weeks ago. Spencer has nothing lined up for 2003.

"I need it to be known: I did everything that organization told me to do," he said. "I did my job. I never laid down on a single lap."

Spencer is 27th in the points, hasn't had a top-10 finish since August and has eight straight finishes outside the top 20.

Spencer took some blame, faulting himself for not arguing with decisions team manager Andy Graves made.

"Some of it was the crew, some of it was the driver, but I take blame because I should have been more vocal about some things," Spencer said. "I didn't agree with some of the stuff Andy was doing, and I should have pushed those issues."

NASCAR TRUCKS: Mike Bliss capped his return to the Craftsman Truck Series by winning the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Bliss, who started in pole position, finished fifth in the Ford 200 to win his first title.

Bliss celebrated by pulling his truck alongside that of teammate Roy Hornaday on the frontstretch, and they high-fived through their windows. Hornaday, a former truck series champion, won the race.

FORMULA ONE: Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo criticized new rules that were changed to curb the Italian team's dominance.

Montezemolo is convinced the new rules will last "a short time because they are an error."

The new rules for the 2003 World Championship, decided by the Formula One commission of the International Auto Racing Federation (FIA) last month, included modifications to testing, qualifying and the point system.

The commission also banned team orders that interfere with the race results. Ferrari won 15 of 17 races this year and captured its fourth world manufacturers title in a row.

Its German driver, Michael Schumacher, won his third consecutive title for a record-equaling total of five.

Auto racing




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