Contenders follow Jarrett

His victory ends 98-race drought

Stewart, Newman simply survive

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October 03, 2005|By ED HINTON | ED HINTON,THE ORLANDO SENTINEL

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Seldom have two drivers been happier after losing a race than Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman were after yesterday's UAW-Ford 500.

That Dale Jarrett had come out of nowhere to beat them on the final lap was an afterthought, and a not-unpleasant one at that: good for him, they both indicated.

They were thrilled to be outta here, done with restrictor-plate racing for the season, and 1-2 in the significantly scrambled Chase for the Championship standings.

"I'm over the race," Stewart said minutes after finishing second in a typically maddening, white-knuckled crash-fest at Talladega Superspeedway, complete with 10 caution flags. "The main thing is just to get out of here."

"Man, I'm happy to be alive," said Newman, who at first was ruled third, then dropped to fourth after NASCAR officials reviewed video. "I had the car crossed up a couple of times in the tri-oval and I thought, `Man, this is it.'"

Jarrett, 48, a non-playoff contender who'd gone 98 races without a victory, wasn't exactly sure how he'd wound up in front when a caution came out on the final lap of a two-lap overtime.

Matt Kenseth, who wound up third, led going into the "green-white-checkered" finish. Jarrett made a deal (via their spotters) to form an aerodynamic push-pull tandem with Stewart through the overtime.

But after Jarrett had pushed Stewart alongside Kenseth, "Tony went from the top of the track literally to the bottom, and I said, `There's no reason for me trying to make that.'"

Considering it too treacherous to follow Stewart any longer, Jarrett chose to stay on the outside, thinking it was the conservative place to be. But he ended up getting pushed past Stewart by Kenseth.

It was Jarrett's 32nd career win, but "at this point in my career I'm not sure there's anything that was more important than getting that push down the backstretch from Matt Kenseth and taking the checkered flag here," he said.

Things were so wild at the finish that "I can't remember exactly where I was from one minute to the next," Stewart said. "You shuffled around so much. So much was changing. Everybody was taking every run they had. ... You never knew who was coming from where ...

"It was definitely a surprise when DJ went by," Stewart said. "But you look at a guy like that, and how much he's struggled the past few years, it's nice to see him get back on track like that."

It was easy for Stewart to be magnanimous, because "the big picture [the championship] is what we worried about all day," he said.

Stewart vaulted four places to the top of the standings, and Newman climbed one place to second, only four points behind Stewart.

After them, the rest of the Chase field separated significantly. Third-place Rusty Wallace is now 80 points out of the lead, after nursing a wrecked car around most of the afternoon and finishing 25th.

Wallace, who dropped one spot in the standings, was one of five Chase contenders who lost ground Sunday after being caught up in wrecks.

Jimmie Johnson dropped from first to fourth in the standings after being involved in two wrecks and taking blame for causing another.

Mark Martin was caught up in the first of three multicar wrecks and tumbled from fourth to ninth in the standings. Kurt Busch scrapped back from smacking the wall to finish eighth, but remained mired in 10th in points.

Jarrett was the only one interested in hanging around afterward, he was too exhausted to express glee with anything but words.

"I wasn't tired until the last few laps, but that exhausted me," he said.

Jarrett hadn't won since February of 2003 at Rockingham, N.C., a track that is no longer on the tour.

"When you get to this point of your career, you're not exactly sure when the next victory is going to be there," he said, "so you learn to cherish each one."

Ed Hinton writes for The Orlando Sentinel.

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