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Race to the altar
NASCAR star Gordon marries Belgian model in Mexico



Jeff Gordon's Chase hopes may be all but over, but he appears to have rebounded nicely by marrying model Ingrid Vandebosch.


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Jeff Gordon took a break from the Nextel Cup championship to get married again.

The four-time NASCAR champion wed Belgian model Ingrid Vandebosch on Tuesday in a private ceremony in Mexico, Jon Edwards, Gordon's publicist, confirmed Wednesday. The wedding was first reported by Us Weekly.

The 35-year-old Gordon, the sport's most marketable driver, and Vandebosch have been together since 2004. They appeared in the movie "Taxi," in which the 37-year-old model played a bank robber and Gordon made an uncredited cameo appearance at her invitation.

Gordon announced his engagement to Vandebosch in Sonoma, Calif., in June, then won the Nextel Cup race the next day.

They began dating about a year after Gordon's much-publicized and expensive divorce from Brooke Sealy, his wife of seven years. Gordon and Brooke met in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway when she handed him a trophy as part of her modeling duties as a Miss Winston.

Her contract forbid her to date drivers, so the two met secretly for a year before she resigned her modeling job and married Gordon in 1994. They became NASCAR's most visible couple, and the divorce engulfed the entire garage as her lawyers tried to look at rival teams contracts to determine Gordon's net worth. Lawyers attempted to subpoena team owners and drivers at the track during preparations for the 2003 Daytona 500.

The ordeal led to a playful pledge from Gordon that he wouldn't marry again until his driving career was over.

Vandebosch, who began modeling at age 12, according to an online biography, has also dated former Baltimore Orioles star Brady Anderson.

Gordon recently surpassed $80 million in career winnings. He's competing for a fifth Cup championship and is sixth in the standings entering this weekend's race at Phoenix International Raceway.
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Running on empty
Time to capture 2006 Cup title running thin for Little E


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has worked his way up to third in the Chase for the championship standings -- no easy feat considering the issues he had from flag to flag at Texas Motor Speedway.

First, he battled strep throat and sore joints, both of which required him to increase his intake of fluids. But all that extra drinking gave him a severe case of heartburn, and he felt so lousy he said it was hard to focus on finishing the race.


"The first part of the race, I was a mess -- it was grueling for me," Earnhardt said. "I could concentrate for about three laps and then I'd have two laps to where I just couldn't get nothing done and I was just all over the place feeling sick."

When he finally found the will to continue, Earnhardt ran his No. 8 Chevrolet smack into the wall, causing considerable damage that dropped him back to 34th in the field. But his Dale Earnhardt Inc. crew made significant repairs to his car and Junior salvaged the day with a sixth-place finish.

It made Earnhardt believe his team finally has emerged as a championship contender.

"We've been called a lot of things, and it would be great to be called resilient," Earnhardt said. "This team is very strong and very dedicated. They carry me whenever I need it and vice versa, and it helps to have that. It really, really does."

Now he's got two weeks to see just how far this team really can go. He heads into Phoenix International Raceway just 78 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, with Matt Kenseth sandwiched between the two.

If he's going to make up any ground, he knows it will have to come Sunday at Phoenix, where he went to Victory Lane in both 2003 and 2004 -- making him one of just three drivers with multiple wins on the 1-mile track. The others are Jeff Burton and Davey Allison.

But Earnhardt's success at Phoenix -- he's got four top-five finishes in the past six races there -- doesn't come naturally. It took him time to figure out how to race in the desert.

"When I first started running there, I didn't get around the place very good," he said. "It was just a real hot, slick race track for me. I don't know what happened, but we showed up one week and this thing was just really, really fast and we've been fast ever since."

He'll need that speed Sunday if he's going to have any shot at the title.

Johnson is on another one of his mind-boggling rolls, finishing second or better the past four weeks. And Kevin Harvick, who currently sits fifth in the standings, swept the Busch and Cup events there in April and will look to do the same this weekend.

So there's little room for error, and Earnhardt has an idea where he needs to be heading into next week's season finale to have any chance at all.

"We need to be in reasonable striking distance going into Homestead," he said. "I'm really glad we're close. That's what you shoot for. We've got some hard, tough teams to beat, but I think we're putting up a great fight."

Still, everyone across the board acknowledges it will be difficult to beat Johnson, who had dropped to ninth after the Chase opener and has mounted another one of his furious comebacks to position himself as the driver to beat. He's the guy they are all chasing into Phoenix, and even Kenseth, who sits 17 points out of the lead, knows catching Johnson will be difficult.

"I'm not being a pessimist, but I'm being a realist -- can we beat Jimmie Johnson on performance? Heck no," Kenseth said. "The guy has been first or second for the past four weeks ... looking at that, you just don't feel too confident."
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At least three African-Americans, including Joe Henderson III, have been the targets of racial incidents at tracks in the South. Most recently, there was an incident in October at Hickory Motor Speedway in Newton, N.C., where a witness said that more than 100 fans crowded a fence next to the track to yell racial epithets at Marc Davis, a 16-year-old African-American driver.
-- New York Times
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The father of an African-American stock-car driver once called a top racing prospect said the highly publicized Nascar-supported Drive for Diversity program was a failure. Joe Henderson Jr. said his son, Joe III, was under contract to MB2 Motorsports from 2005 to 2006 and was used for publicity but was given poor equipment in 2005 and not even provided a racecar in 2006.
-- New York Times
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Tony Stewart's run of three wins in six races - as a non-contender during the Chase for the Nextel Cup stretch drive - apparently has persuaded NASCAR chairman Brian France to rethink how the sport is scored. That is welcome news to many competitors, who believe the current 10-point difference between finishing first and second is not enough.
-- Philadelphia Inquirer
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No real details, but the Holidayinn.com site shows a No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevy but it has a driver 'greened' out and says "November 19: The Last Race, A Cup Debut, A New Teammate." The teammate could be Scott Wimmer, who has been testing for RCR lately and has been rumored to be running a partial Busch/Cup scheduled for RCR in 2007.
-- jayski.com
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't renew his membership in the Gillette Young Guns program next year as he seeks to refine his endorsement strategy, Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Daily reports. The razor company is in the process of formulating plans for 2007 and is not expected to make an announcement on changes until February at Daytona.
-- SceneDaily.com
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A few financing points aside, NASCAR says it's ready to move forward with the construction of a 19-story office tower to occupy one corner of its planned NASCAR Hall of Fame property. The tower plans now surpass what the sport had pitched earlier this year, with 400,000 rentable square feet instead of 300,000 in a glass-and-concrete tower. The building also would hold a new, 40,000-square-foot ballroom for the adjacent Charlotte Convention Center.
-- Charlotte Observer
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NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Bill Lester turned laps in a Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series car during a test Monday at Daytona International Raceway. The Michael Shank Racing team has set its full-time drivers for 2007, but Lester is hoping he might get a ride for the 24-hour event at Daytona and possibly other endurance races.
-- SceneDaily.com
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Crewman punished for Harvick fracas


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Crew member Craig Curione was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR on Tuesday for shoving Kevin Harvick on pit road at Texas Motor Speedway.

The push knocked Harvick, his wife and a NASCAR official to the ground. The Harvicks were not injured, but NASCAR official John Sacco was taken to the infield medical center with a sprained ankle.


Curione, the front tire carrier for Scott Riggs, was fined $10,000, NASCAR officials said.

Evernham Motorsports, which owns Riggs' team, said it supported the disciplinary action against Curione and would not appeal the penalty.

"We apologize to Kevin and DeLana Harvick, NASCAR, our partners and our fans for this incident," team co-owner James Rocco said. "The behavior demonstrated by the involved crew member was in violation of the (our) employee code of conduct and will not be tolerated."

The team did not indicate if it will take internal action against Curione.

Curione was one of several crew members who approached Harvick minutes after Sunday's race at Texas and exchanged words with the driver, apparently in retaliation for an incident late in the race.

Harvick was close behind Riggs when the latter crashed while running third with seven laps to go. It appeared Harvick's car took the air off the rear deck of Riggs' car and Riggs was unable to maintain control.

When Harvick walked toward the infield media center, witnesses said Curione shoved him in the back. Harvick fell into his wife, DeLana, and she fell into a NASCAR official. All three tumbled to the ground.

"Those guys decided they wanted to take matters into their own hands and trip my wife in front of their pit box," Harvick said after the race. "That's a little bit unnecessary, so we're not too happy about that."
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'A saving grace'
Stewart rules at Dickies; Johnson takes Chase lead



Tony Stewart celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nextel Cup Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.


Dickies 500
Unofficial Results
1. Tony Stewart (20) Chevrolet
2. Jimmie Johnson (48) Chevrolet
3. Kevin Harvick (29) Chevrolet
4. Kyle Busch (5) Chevrolet
5. Clint Bowyer (07) Chevrolet
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8) Chevrolet
7. Casey Mears (42) Dodge
8. Jeff Gordon (24) Chevrolet
9. Kurt Busch (2) Dodge
10. Denny Hamlin (11) Chevrolet
11. Kyle Petty (45) Dodge
12. Matt Kenseth (17) Ford
13. Jeff Green (66) Chevrolet
14. Martin Truex Jr. (1) Chevrolet
15. Carl Edwards (99) Ford
16. Bobby Labonte (43) Dodge
17. Reed Sorenson (41) Dodge
18. Joe Nemechek (01) Chevrolet
19. Tony Raines (96) Chevrolet
20. J.J. Yeley (18) Chevrolet
21. David Gilliland (38) Ford
22. Mark Martin (6) Ford
23. Mike Bliss (49) Dodge
24. David Stremme (40) Dodge
25. Ward Burton (4) Chevrolet
26. Jamie McMurray (26) Ford
27. Brian Vickers (25) Chevrolet
28. Travis Kvapil (32) Chevrolet
29. Dale Jarrett (88) Ford
30. Kenny Wallace (78) Chevrolet
31. Scott Riggs (10) Dodge
32. Dave Blaney (22) Dodge
33. Kasey Kahne (9) Dodge
34. Ryan Newman (12) Dodge
35. Greg Biffle (16) Ford
36. Terry Labonte (44) Chevrolet
37. Elliott Sadler (19) Dodge
38. Jeff Burton (31) Chevrolet
39. Robby Gordon (7) Chevrolet
40. Sterling Marlin (14) Chevrolet
41. Paul Menard (15) Chevrolet
42. Ken Schrader (21) Ford
43. Michael Waltrip (55) Dodge

Nextel Cup
Chase for the Championship
1. J.Johnson 6,157
2. M.Kenseth 6,140
3. D.Earnhardt Jr. 6,079
4. D.Hamlin 6,077
5. K.Harvick 6,052
6. J.Gordon 6,000
7. J.Burton 5,973
8. Kyle Busch 5,924
9. M.Martin 5,904
10. K.Kahne 5,867



FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Tony Stewart's eyes lit up at the thought.

Winning out in the last four races of NASCAR's Chase for the Nextel Cup championship is a goal he can get his arms around -- especially because he isn't part of the stock car playoff party.

"It's a very good goal to shoot for right now, win these last two races and be able to say we've won the last four races of the Chase," said Stewart, who added a second straight win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. "It would be a saving grace to the season."

While the tense battles of the Chase rage on, Stewart is driving in a world of his own.

It just so happens that Stewart's world is way out in front of all the drama.

Having fun and driving for wins -- not a championship -- Stewart overpowered the field in the Dickies 500, and he made this one look almost too easy: "Smoke" led 278 of 339 laps, including the five extra laps because of a late caution, and often was so far ahead that he appeared to be all by himself on the track.

Most of the action was well behind him, where Jimmie Johnson quietly grabbed away the point lead from Matt Kenseth by 17 points with a second-place finish. Stewart easily raced away to his fifth win of the season and third in the eight Chase races.

"I thought we had the perfect car all day," Stewart said. "It was just an unbelievable day. I've been racing for 27 years and I can count on my hands the number of times I've had a car like that."

The race tightened up the championship, with Johnson, Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., rookie Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick separated by just 105 points with two races remaining. All of them finished among the top 12 Sunday.

"This was a wild night, but a good one for us, all in all," said Johnson, who came into the race trailing Kenseth by 26 points. "We just have to keep working, keep running hard and scoring points.

"We've had so much fun racing for this since we got down (in the points) early. We just want to keep having fun," said Johnson, who has three runner-up finishes and a win in his last four starts.

Harvick finished third, followed by Kyle Busch, rookie Clint Bowyer and Earnhardt, who had a miraculous day.

Earnhardt, still feeling the effects of the flu that dogged him all week, hung in at his favorite track and kept his title hopes alive. Junior somehow overcame a sick stomach, a bounce off the wall, seven pit stops for repairs and a penalty for speeding on pit road to move from fourth to third, 78 points behind Johnson.

"Not too bad," said Earnhardt, who fell all the way from second to 33rd after hitting the wall. "The first part of the race, I didn't feel good at all. I drank so many fluids, I had heartburn and all kind of bad stuff going on in there. Then, as the race went on, I got to feeling better.

"I'm just sorry we couldn't do any better than we did."

Kenseth started 36th, the worst of any of the contenders, struggled with handling throughout the early part of the race and overcame a speeding penalty. At one point, the 2003 champion thought he had a tire going down and almost pitted under green. But he stayed out and somehow finished 12th.

Hamlin was never in contention but hung on for a 10th-place finish that dropped him from third to fourth, 80 points behind the leader.

Stewart, a two-time Cup champion and last year's title winner, missed the 10-man, 10-race Chase this year by just 16 points and decided to spend the rest of the season padding his victory column. Sunday's win was the 29th of his career.

He won last month at Kansas by gambling on gas and coasted under the checkered flag. But Stewart was dominating last week at Atlanta, leading 146 of 325 laps, and even stronger Sunday on the 1.5-mile Texas oval.

And being out of the playoffs hasn't stopped him from enjoying himself.

As has become his post-win routine, Stewart stopped his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet at the finish line and joyfully climbed the flagstand, to the delight of the big crowd. Stewart nearly slipped a week ago on the way up at Atlanta and, this time, NASCAR flagman Rodney Wise reached out to help him up.

"We finally have caught up now," said Stewart, who never has won more than six races in a season. "We all wish that we could turn back the hands of time and get on this streak three months earlier. But our stress level is a 10th of what those guys in the chase are facing. We can go out and try to win races without the fear of losing points."

Jeff Burton, who began the day tied with Earnhardt for fourth, just 84 points behind Kenseth, saw his championship hopes destroyed when a tire blew on lap 89, sending him hard into the wall and relegating him to a 38th-place finish and seventh place in the standings, 184 points out of first.

Kasey Kahne, who won the spring race at Texas and leads the Cup series with six victories this year, was the only driver able to even challenge Stewart on Sunday. He was right behind on a restart on lap 262 and made a couple of tries to get by the leader. But Stewart wasn't having any of it and slowly pulled away.

Late in the race, it looked like Kahne would get one more shot at Stewart when a caution came out on lap 327. But, seconds later, Kahne pulled onto pit road with an engine failure that ended any chance of a win or a championship. He fell to 10th, 290 points behind in the Chase.

Non-contender Scott Riggs was in the top 10 most of the day and restarted second on lap 331. As the leaders finished lap 332, Johnson took second and Harvick moved up close behind Riggs, trying to take third. Riggs got loose and slammed into the wall.

Kenseth spun and was tapped by Martin Truex Jr., with no major damage. Earnhardt drove through the grass to avoid the melee. That set up the overtime and a two-lap sprint to the finish that Stewart won with ease, beating Johnson to the finish line by about five car-lengths.

Mark Martin, who started the day 201 points out, never got into contention after having to go to a backup car following a crash in Saturday's practice. He finished 22nd and fell 253 points behind Johnson.

Two-time champion Terry Labonte ended his 29-year, 848-race driving career with a 36th-place finish after being feted Sunday before the race.
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2:07 pm | Gordon marries model in Mexico

NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and his girlfriend Ingrid Vandebosch arrive for the premiere of the Disney/Pixar animated film "Cars" at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Jeff Gordon took a break from the Nextel Cup championship to get married again.

The four-time NASCAR champion wed Belgian model Ingrid Vandebosch on Tuesday in a private ceremony in Mexico, Jon Edwards, Gordon's publicist, confirmed Wednesday. The wedding was first reported by Us Weekly.

The 35-year-old Gordon, the sport's most marketable driver, and Vandebosch have been together since 2004. They appeared in the movie "Taxi," in which the 37-year-old model played a bank robber and Gordon made an uncredited cameo appearance at her invitation.

Gordon, who has a home in Charlotte, announced his engagement to Vandebosch in Sonoma, Calif., in June, then won the Nextel Cup race the next day.

They began dating about a year after Gordon's much-publicized and expensive divorce from Brooke Sealy, his wife of seven years. Gordon and Brooke met in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway when she handed him a trophy as part of her modeling duties as a Miss Winston.

Her contract forbid her to date drivers, so the two met secretly for a year before she resigned her modeling job and married Gordon in 1994. They became NASCAR's most visible couple, and the divorce engulfed the entire garage as her lawyers tried to look at rival teams contracts to determine Gordon's net worth. Lawyers attempted to subpoena team owners and drivers at the track during preparations for the 2003 Daytona 500.

The ordeal led to a playful pledge from Gordon that he wouldn't marry again until his driving career was over.

Vandebosch, who began modeling at age 12, according to an online biography, has also dated former Baltimore Orioles star Brady Anderson.

Gordon recently surpassed $80 million in career winnings. He's competing for a fifth Cup championship and is sixth in the standings entering this weekend's race at Phoenix International Raceway.
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Bruton Smith to be among international hall's inductees

Bruton Smith, the Charlotte-based billionaire businessman whose motorsports empire includes Lowe’s Motor Speedway, is one of six people elected to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in its Class of 2007.

Smith and legendary driver Curtis Turner joined forces to build what was then called Charlotte Motor Speedway, but shortly after it opened in 1960 the financial strain of getting the project completed forced it into bankruptcy.

More than a decade later, after becoming successful in automobile dealerships, Smith returned and regained control of the 1.5-mile track. Over the past three decades, he has turned into a template for the modern American racing facility.

Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. now owns tracks it Bristol, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas and northern California.

Joining Smith in the 2007 class will be Junie Donlavey, Ray Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Warren Johnson and Wayne Rainey.

Donlavey is a longtime NASCAR car owner from Virginia who gave several of the sport’s top drivers their first shots in stock-car racing’s big time.

Hendrick won more than 700 modified and late model sportsman races and was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998.

Ingram won the NASCAR late model sportsman titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974 and then won two Busch Series titles and 31 races in that series.

Johnson is a six-time National Hot Rod Association pro stock champion who has 96 career national event victories.

Rainey is a three-time Grand Prix World motorcycle champion whose career ended in a crash in 1993.

The six men will be inducted into the hall at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama on April 26.
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One of the younger Wood brothers has knee surgery


Keven Wood, the son of Wood Brothers/JTG Racing co-owner Len Wood, had surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament on his left knee.

He suffered the injury in a pick-up soccer game last month, but the severity of the injury was not immediately apparent. He continued driving in late model racing, finishing sixth in a race at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro the night before his surgery.

Wood, a developmental driver for the family’s team, hopes to be able to participate in an Automobile Racing Club of America series test for the team next month.
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First 26 more than a warmup

Tony Stewart celebrates winning the Dickies 500 NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway.

FORT WORTH, Texas - They all count.

That, more than anything else, is the lesson to be learned from the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup season. Every race counts, which is precisely as it should be.

Just after the 2003 season, I was standing in a ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. It was Thursday night, the eve of Matt Kenseth's championship celebration, and NASCAR was hosting champions from all its touring series at a much smaller affair than the next evening's grand gala.

Just before sitting down for dinner, I found myself in a conversation with NASCAR Chairman Brian France. As we chatted, he began talking about what we now know as the Chase for the Nextel Cup format.

The idea of such a split season, 26 races to narrow the field for a 10-race title battle, had been floated a few weeks earlier but seemed so different from the former format that nobody had really paid much attention to it.

There was a moment in which it hit me that the man at stock car racing's helm was saying such an idea was not only being considered, it was pretty much going to happen. My immediate reaction was that it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard.

I remember telling France such a plan would by definition lessen the importance of the first 26 races. With the championship decided in the final 10, those would be the only significant races, I reasoned.

France challenged me to look at the numbers and consider what the change could mean. I spent much of that night doing exactly that, and by Friday morning I was convinced the Chase concept certainly had merit.

Now, three years into the format's existence, I still believe the decision to go to it was the right one for NASCAR. I am aware that others don't agree, and I concede that some of their reservations about the system have merit, too.

The Chase is not perfect, and I don't think the changes NASCAR is apparently considering for next year address the most significant shortcoming. That flaw is that the driver who makes it through the first 26 races with the lead in the standings should go into the playoff with more than just a five-point lead over his nearest rival.

But anyone who has watched Tony Stewart win three of the past six races, including the past two at Atlanta and Texas, has to understand now that I was dead wrong about the Chase lessening the significance of the season's first 26 races.

Stewart was 16 points behind 10th-place Kasey Kahne after the race at Richmond in September that set this year's Chase field.

Give Stewart one extra position in a handful of races, or a handful of spots in any one of the five races in which he finished 32nd or better in the season's first 19 events, and he'd be in the Chase.

But he didn't get there, and that means that even though he could still wind up winning half of this year's Chase races, he'll do no better than 11th in the final standings.

Some Chase opponents see that as the format's biggest flaw, but I see it as validation. If the "regular season" matters, it matters because unless a driver does well enough in those races to make the Chase, a surge such as Stewart is having now isn't going to rectify that.

"I don't think I am crashing anybody's party," Stewart said after leading 278 of the 339 laps in Sunday's victory. "Jimmie Johnson was the highest-finishing guy in the Chase today. I don't think he was remotely even worried about what we did."

Johnson certainly would have liked to pass Stewart on the green-white-checkered to grab the victory and a few more points to add to the 17-point edge he has over Matt Kenseth with two races to go. But anybody who thinks Johnson settled for second at Texas wasn't watching how strong Stewart's No. 20 was all day.

Stewart knows he can't win the championship this year because he didn't earn the right through the first 26 races. So he and his team have changed their goal and are trying to add more wins to the five they've already racked up this year.

Johnson, though, has finished second, first, second and second in the past four races and now has his goal -- a first championship for his team -- in sight. As good as things are going for Stewart, we'll let him tell you if he'd swap roles.

"We're enjoying these last 10 races not having that stress and that pressure" the Chase drivers do, he said. "But trust me, we would trade all these wins and everything just to be back in the Chase right now."
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