Monday, May 24, 2004

NASCAR's Stewart shows up at Indy

Attempt at last-minute qualifying
thwarted, however

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Stewart's push to make this year's Indianapolis 500 started as a joke. It ended Sunday with Stewart standing in a white driver's suit on pit road, determined to return to Indianapolis next May. "I want to be in it more than you can imagine right now," Stewart said of this year's race.

Stewart, the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup champion and the series' bad boy, again found himself embroiled in controversy. This time, Stewart had only himself - and his stock-car contract - to blame.

After being criticized recently by NASCAR officials and other drivers, Stewart created a huge stir during Sunday's final round of qualifying on Indianapolis' 2 1/2-mile oval with a last-minute decision to join A.J. Foyt's team.

Stewart finished third behind winner, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman, in the Nextel All-Star Challenge on Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C., then flew to Indianapolis hoping to spend time at the track with friends. Foyt's repeated phone calls persuaded him to get into one of his backup cars. That rekindled Stewart's passion to win the Indy Racing League's best-known race in his home state.

With less than an hour to go in qualifying, the engine running and Stewart ready to get in the driver's seat, his agent, Cary Agajanian, personally delivered a message: Stewart's NASCAR contract wouldn't allow it. The expressions on the faces of Foyt and Stewart turned sour and Stewart immediately began unbuttoning his driver's suit. Part of the problem was Stewart drives a Chevrolet in the Nextel Cup series, while Foyt's team uses Toyota engines.

NASCAR BUSCH SERIES: Martin Truex Jr. led for just one lap in the final race at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway, yet still managed his series-best fourth win of the season.

Truex battled lapped traffic and cut underneath Bobby Hamilton Jr. down the backstretch on lap 200 in a thrilling finish Sunday in the Goulds Pumps ITT Industries 200.

The one lap that Truex led was the fewest ever for a winner in a Busch Series race at Nazareth Speedway. He won by only 0.140 seconds with an average speed of 110.616 mph. The win pushed Truex past pole-sitter Kyle Busch for the lead in the Busch Series points standings. Truex has 1,803 points; Busch, who led the first 54 laps, has 1,772.

It was the 17th and final Busch Series race at Nazareth Speedway. The speedway will close after the 2004 season and International Speedway Corporation plans to move the speedway's NASCAR Busch and IRL IndyCar series events to other tracks.

FORMULA ONE: Michael Schumacher's season-opening five-race winning streak ended with a crash at the Monaco Grand Prix, where Jarno Trulli drove to his first F1 win. Schumacher was trying to become the first driver to win the season's first six races, but the six-time world champion's ride finished with a wheel dangling from his damaged red Ferrari - and renewed complaints about his driving from rival Juan Pablo Montoya.

Trulli, the only driver other than Schumacher to win this season, had the pole for the first time and recorded his first victory in 119 Grand Prix races. "It's amazing," he said. "I won in Monaco, the best race probably in the world."

Schumacher was also hoping to equal the best winning streak in a season. Alberto Ascari won the last six races in 1952 and added three more at the start of 1953.

CHAMP CAR: France's Sebastian Bourdais, 25, fought off numerous challenges by Bruno Junqueira and made an early lead stand up to win the Monterrey Grand Prix.

The pole-sitter led most of the race, except for the laps around his pit stops, and beat Brazil's Junqueira by 3.852 seconds.

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