By CHRIS JENKINS, AP Sports Writer
October 2, 2006
AP - Oct 1, 7:06 pm EDT
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) -- Free from the pressure
of chasing the championship,
Tony Stewart could gamble on gas and joke about it
But for Nextel Cup contenders
Jimmie Johnson and
Jeff Gordon, the oddball finish to Sunday's race at Kansas
Speedway was no laughing matter.
Stewart ran out of gas on the last lap, but
still was able to coast to victory in the Banquet 400. Asked
what it felt like to not be in control of his racing fate after
running out of gas, Stewart said it actually wasn't so bad.
``I don't know,'' Stewart joked. ``I guess my
job is for the most part over at that point.''
Earlier in the race, crew chief Greg Zipadelli
told Stewart that he expected to run out of gas one-half lap
from the end. They decided to go for it anyway.
``You're a little bit off,'' Stewart said,
turning to Zipadelli in the postrace news conference. ``Not
Johnson could have made a similar gamble for the
victory. But as a championship contender, he played it by the
book and gave up the race lead to pit for an extra splash of
fuel with four laps to go.
It ended up costing him when was penalized for
speeding on pit road, and finished 14th.
Johnson seemed skeptical of the penalty after
``We had such a big lead over the guys running
in second and third and all that, so I wouldn't get beat by
them,'' Johnson said. ``So I wasn't in a hurry to get on pit
road. I just wanted to get on and off and get back into the race
and evidently I got a speeding violation.''
Gordon saw his championship momentum evaporate a
few laps earlier. Gordon was running eighth when his car
developed an apparent fuel-pressure problem with 29 laps to go,
causing him to slow to a crawl on the backstretch.
After getting a push back to the pits from
former Hendrick teammate
Terry Labonte, Gordon's crew tried to fix his car but
couldn't get him back on the track. He finished 39th.
``We can still win the championship, but I am
just upset right now,'' Gordon said. ``I want to know what
happened, I want to get out of here and move on.''
Casey Mears also gambled on gas and finished second,
zigzagging his way to the checkered flag to try to force the
last drops of fuel from his tank into his engine.
AP - Oct 1, 6:53 pm EDT
``It's definitely a booster in morale with the
team and with myself,'' Mears said. ``It's a positive note by
every sense of the word.''
Mark Martin finished third. Martin, a self-described
pessimist who has come agonizingly close to winning
championships in the past, said he fully expects to wreck at
Talladega Superspeedway next weekend.
But if that doesn't happen, he says, who knows?
``So far, I haven't had a disaster -- so let's
go see what happens,'' Martin said.
Dale Jarrett finished fourth, his first top-five finish in
his final season with Robert Yates Racing.
``That's good for Robert and Doug (Yates) and
for the morale of the team and hopefully for them to land a
sponsor and make things continue to do well,'' Jarrett said.
Jeff Burton, who broke a five-year winless streak and
grabbed the points lead last weekend at Dover, also used a
conservative fuel strategy and finished fifth. Burton was
running second when he pitted for a splash of fuel with nine
laps to go.
Sunday's race caused a major shakeup in the
points standings. Burton came into the race with a six-point
lead over Gordon in the standings, and leaves with an unofficial
69-point lead over
Denny Hamlin, who managed to climb two spots with an
``I hate those fuel mileage things,'' Burton
said. ``But my guys did a great job today.''
Martin moved up to third in the standings, 70
points behind Burton. Gordon dropped four spots to sixth, 120
points behind Burton.
Burton barely avoided trouble early in the race
Ryan Newman spun out directly in front of him. Burton
quickly swerved to the right, driving through a blinding cloud
of smoke to narrowly miss hitting Newman.
Kevin Harvick were right behind Burton, and ended up sliding
through the infield grass.
Harvick struggled to stay on the pace and was
lapped by then-race leader
Kyle Busch on lap 118, but climbed to 12th with 83 laps to
go and finished 15th. He remains fifth in the standings.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 10th and is seventh in the
Sunday was rougher on
Matt Kenseth, who came into the race third in the points but
struggled with his car's handling all afternoon and spun out on
lap 145. Kenseth was able to rejoin the race but finished 23rd
and dropped from third to fourth in the standings.
``That's a really bad finish, but it's not a
total disaster, either,'' Kenseth said.