Stewart is second to none

Driver wins Nextel Cup title No. 2, beating out Ford 400 winner Biffle

Auto racing


HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- His dad thought he'd be good at age 4. At 34, he's a two-time NASCAR champion.

He is Tony Stewart, who for weeks has been the front-runner to win the Nextel Cup. And why not? He had five wins, more top-fives than anyone else and by week's end had the endorsement of his closest rivals inside the garage at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"It will be a travesty if Tony doesn't win [the] championship," Jack Roush, owner of two of the three cars that had a chance to catch Stewart, said Friday.

One of those cars is driven by Greg Biffle, who came in trailing Stewart by 102 points. Biffle won yesterday's Ford 400 but still fell 35 points short of Stewart, who claimed his second career championship.

Stewart also won the 2002 title, making him just the 14th driver in NASCAR history to win multiple championships, not that he needed a second to validate himself with his peers.

"Those guys were the top of the field," four-time champion Jeff Gordon said. "Tony Stewart is a great driver, and he's fortunate to have two to go along with that."

For Stewart, who finished 15th yesterday, the second is sweeter than the first because he can celebrate this one happily with his team, car owner and fans without anyone snickering behind his back. That wasn't necessarily the case in 2002 when the relationship was dicey between him and his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli.

Things changed for the better after a team meeting at the end of last season when everyone aired grievances, most of which dealt with Stewart's brash attitude.

"He's the greatest," Zipadelli said. "I love him like a brother."

Stewart replied: "You wouldn't have said that in some of those heart-to-heart meetings we had."

While Stewart and Zipadelli were talking about a renewed love affair, Biffle was talking about loose lug nuts, Jimmie Johnson a flat tire and Carl Edwards a dream season.

Two weeks ago at Texas, Biffle left a pit stop with one loose lug nut and one that had cross-threaded the bolt. That bad luck cost him a probable top-five finish - he finished 20th - and possibly the championship. Had he finished even ninth, Biffle would have earned 35 more points, which just so happened to be Stewart's margin of victory.

"All week long I was hoping we wouldn't lose by 35 points," Biffle said after winning yesterday. "It's something I'm going to be thinking about for a long, long time."

Johnson, who entered the finale in second place, 52 points back of Stewart, had his bid for a championship end on Lap 126 when his right rear tire exploded, sending his car hard into the wall.

"I had a feeling something was up," said a disappointed Johnson, who wound up fifth in the standings after being the runner-up in each of the two previous seasons. "I lived my whole life for this. End up, you know, blowing a tire and being out. That's part of it."

Edwards, 26, was beaming even though he didn't win. No one expected him to be in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. No one expected him to win four races. Not only did he accomplish both - he finished fourth yesterday and third in the standings - but he also became the top dog in Roush's heavy-hitter garage.

For now, Stewart is king, though it's hardly news to the family.

"His daddy thought he'd be good from the very beginning," Pam Boas said after her son clinched his second title.

Note -- Two helicopters collided at the speedway after the race, killing one pilot. The pilot's identification was being withheld pending family notification.

Jay Hart writes for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa.

NASCAR Nextel Cup

Final standings

Driver (Prev. pos.) Points Wins Top 5 Top 10

Tony Stewart (1) 6,533 5 17 25

Greg Biffle (4) 6,498 6 15 21

Carl Edwards (3) 6,498 4 13 18

Mark Martin (5) 6,428 1 12 19

Jimmie Johnson (2) 6,406 4 13 22

Ryan Newman (6) 6,359 1 8 16

Matt Kenseth (7) 6,352 1 12 17

Rusty Wallace (8) 6,140 0 8 17

Jeremy Mayfield (10) 6,073 1 4 9

Kurt Busch (9) 5,974 3 9 18

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