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NASCAR notebook

Associated Press
The NASCAR notebook …
INDIANAPOLIS ó Tony Stewart held onto a sliver of hope that he could claim his third Brickyard 400 title when he took the lead late in Sundayís race.
He didnít have enough fuel to stay up front.
Stewart stayed on the track when other drivers refueled and he took the lead on lap 134. He rocketed out to a 13.5-second lead before it became clear he couldnít finish without making a stop. With 15 laps to go, he finally pulled in. Paul Menard won, and Stewart eventually finished sixth.
ěWe knew it was a borrowed lead, but it sure was nice to lead here again at Indy,î said Stewart, who won here in 2005 and 2007.
Stewart had a rough day at times, but he somehow salvaged it. He was penalized for running into a speed-limit cone early in the race, then he later collided with Kyle Busch on pit road.
ěItís a long pit road, itís a narrow pit road,î Stewart said. ěI feel bad for Kyle and those guys because they had a good day going at the time.î
When he went to the pits for the final time, he knew he had no chance at a win. He said a caution wouldnít have helped because the other drivers near the front had already refueled and had fresher tires, so they likely would have stayed on the track, and he still would have had to stop for gas.
Despite starting 24th and making several mistakes, Stewart ended up with what he considered a good finish.
ěThatís the hard way to do it, man,î he said. ěWe had to fight from the back a couple of times to get up there. I donít even know how we finished sixth.î
MONTOYAíS LUCK
For the third straight year, Juan Pablo Montoya spent much of the race near the front of the field.
Once again, he faded late.
Montoya was running as high as third with 40 laps to go, but had to make a fuel stop, got mired in traffic and finished 28th. It was Montoyaís first race with new crew chief Jim Pohlman, who replaced Brian Pattie last week.
ěIt (stinks) when you run good all day, but I think Jim Pohlman and all the guys did a really good job all day,î Montoya said.
Two years ago, he led 116 laps and built a 5-second lead over the competition before getting flagged for speeding on the final pit stop. He finished 11th.
Last year, the Colombian dominated again, leading a race-high 86 laps before taking four tires instead of two during a late caution. The move dropped Montoya from first to seventh. He struggled on the restart and eventually crashed out, finishing 32nd.
EARNHARDT STREAK
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. took an early lead, the popular driver gave his fans hope that his 112-race winless streak would end.
He led seven laps total, ran inside the top three for some time, but eventually finished 16th.
Earnhardtís last victory was at Michigan in 2008.
He said passing was difficult on the narrow Indianapolis track, and he knew he didnít have a chance once he fell back.
ěSome guys were fast enough to get up there, and some of us didnít,î he said. ěWe played it out, and that was the result we got. I donít know what to be angry about if I was going to be angry.î
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BIG-TIME SMITH: Regan Smith had never placed in the top 10 since beginning his NASCAR Sprint Cup career in 2007.
This year, he has placed in the top 10 in four of NASCARís crown jewel races. He was seventh at Daytona, earned his first career victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington, took eighth at the Coca-Cola 600 and finished third at the Brickyard 400 Sunday.
In his other 16 races this season, he hasnít placed higher than 15th.
ěWeíve just got to figure out how to perform on the rest of the stages,î he said.
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GRAND-AM CHAMP: Reigning Grand-Am Rolex Series champion Scott Pruett looks forward to his debut at the Speedway next July 27.
Pruett raced in the Indianapolis 500 four times and finished 10th in the Brickyard 400 in 2000. Now, after he vowed not to drive Indy cars again, Grand-Am has gave him an unexpected chance to return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after agreeing to hold Rolex and Continental Series events there next year as part of three days of racing at the track.
ěThereís something magical about the Speedway,î Pruett said before Sundayís race. ěI love this place; I love Indy. Racers love Indy. If you just mention the word Indy, they know what it is ó Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Brickyard ó even people who may not be race fans.î
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SOLO DRIVES: U.S. womenís soccer goalie Hope Solo enjoyed her run as the pace car driver.
Race director David Hoots thanked Solo over the radio for getting the race started. She replied: ěNo problem guys; this is pretty amazing.î
Solo helped the U.S. national team advance to the Womenís World Cup final in Germany. She was named to the 2011 World Cup all-tournament team and was named the top goalkeeper of the tournament.
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STENHOUSE THE SPOKESMAN: Nationwide driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., has agreed to lend his voice to radio announcements promoting driver safety for the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Stenhouse also will participate in the Distracted Driver Simulator Tour for ODOT. He will demonstrate the difficulty of driving while distracted while using the simulator Monday at the Ohio State Fair.
It is part of the stateís ěEvery Move You Make, Keep it Safeî roadway safety campaign.
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SUMMER SHOWDOWN: With his win Sunday, Menard positioned himself to earn an additional $3 million payout through Sprint.
Menardís victory qualified him for the Sprint Summer Showdown. If Menard can also win at Atlanta on Labor Day weekend, he will earn $1 million for himself, another million for his designated charity and another million for a randomly chosen fan who went online and picked him to win Sundayís race.
There are four remaining chances for fans to get online and pick a winner. Another finalist will be picked among those who choose the winners of the races at Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol. If any of those race winners also claim victory in Atlanta, that driver will earn the payout for himself, his charity and the fan.
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MISCELLANEOUS: Denny Hamlin qualified 14th, but he was forced to the back of the field at the start as a penalty for changing his engine. The original engine blew up late in Fridayís final practice. He finished 27th. … David Ragan, who won the pole less than a month after earning his first career Sprint Cup Series victory in July at Daytona, finished 23rd … Jamie McMurray, last yearís winner, finished fourth. … NASCARís attendance estimate was 138,000.
The Associated Press
07/31/11 19:29

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