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Smith crosses the line and hands Stewart a victory

Veteran gets first win at Talladega when rookie driver dips below out-of-bounds marker.

October 06, 2008|From the Associated Press

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Tony Stewart was the first driver penalized for dipping below NASCAR's out-of-bounds line, learning a valuable lesson in 2001 at Daytona that he has carried with him the last seven years.

So when Regan Smith slid under the line Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway to finish first, Stewart was certain he'd be awarded his first victory of the season.

NASCAR agreed with him, and Stewart made his first trip to Talladega's Victory Lane in 20 career starts. But Smith was adamant he'd done nothing wrong, arguing that the two-time series champion forced him below the line in a desperate blocking attempt.

"You're darn right I did. I've lost Daytona 500s, I've lost races here at Talladega because somebody blocked," Stewart said. "That's the name of the game. There's always been people blocking. The nice thing is I was actually on the right end of it this time.

"Trust me, I've got no regrets about what I did. I did exactly what I needed to do to win the race, and it worked out."

Smith was in second and trailed Stewart for the final three laps, and the rookie made one attempt to grab his first career victory by ducking inside of Stewart to attempt a pass.

Stewart wouldn't relent, moving with Smith down the track until Smith dove below the yellow line to make the pass. He moved back onto the racing surface in front of Stewart and cruised to the finish line.

NASCAR reviewed the move -- a driver is allowed to make the pass if officials believe he was forced under the line -- and declared it illegal. Smith was dropped to 18th in the final finishing order.

"We just watched the tape. They can argue about it for five years, they're not going to change the decision. That's not how NASCAR works," Smith said. "I totally disagree with them 110%. I clearly moved to the outside, moved back to the inside. Tony made a move to the high side and made a move to the bottom side.

"My nose was in there. The only other option I had was to wreck him."

The ruling helped Stewart end a 43-race winless streak dating to Watkins Glen last year and allowed him to cross Talladega off his list of tracks where he'd failed to earn a win. Talladega has taunted him for 10 years, as Stewart finished second a maddening six times.

"Man, it's one thing to get back to Victory Lane -- but to do it at Talladega -- this is one of four places I haven't won a Cup race, and talk about one to win," Stewart said. "I wanted to win here for so long."

Paul Menard was second and was followed by rookie David Ragan and Chase drivers Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer.

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Standings

*--* Driver Points Behind 1. Jimmie Johnson 5,718 -- 2. Carl Edwards 5,646 72 3. Greg Biffle 5,641 77 4. Jeff Burton 5,619 99 5. Clint Bowyer 5,566 152 6. Kevin Harvick 5,547 171 7. Tony Stewart 5,515 203 8. Jeff Gordon 5,486 232 9. Matt Kenseth 5,473 245 10.. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5,469 249 11. Kyle Busch 5,387 331 12. Denny Hamlin 5,383 335 *--*

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