July 31, 2011 in Sports

Stewart gains confidence at Indianapolis speedway

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Tony Stewart, center, talking to fellow driver Kasey Kahne, has overcome a love-hate relationship with Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
(Full-size photo)

Tony Stewart seemed to be on a date with destiny in both of his wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where there was an overwhelming sense in 2005 and 2007 that nothing could get in his way in the race to Victory Lane.

Even though he seemed to be a lock both of those years, Stewart never allowed himself to think the race was his for the taking. He’d suffered too many heartaches at the Brickyard to assume anything was a given.

“I know how much this track can change. You can have a great race car in practice and then when you start the race, the conditions seem to change a little bit,” Stewart said. “It’s just a battle of trying to keep the car balanced all day. Even during the race, you can have a fast car at the beginning and lose the handle at the end. You have to make sure you have a car that’s adjustable all day.”

Stewart doesn’t appear to be a lock to win today, but he should at least be a contender. His Stewart-Haas Racing team turned a corner two weeks ago at New Hampshire, where Ryan Newman led his boss to a 1-2 finish in both qualifying and the race.

The roll continued into this week, when Stewart won his first World of Outlaws race.

So his mood was sky high when he arrived at the Brickyard. That’s a bit of a change for Stewart, who has admittedly stressed out about racing at the track he so adores.

He had a shot to win the 1996 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie until a broken part ended his race on lap 82. He was leading in 1998 when his engine failed right after he’d moved to the front.

Then came NASCAR, in which Stewart was a threat to win in 2001 until he bounced off the wall racing with Dale Jarrett for the lead. He admitted afterward, “I was just trying too hard.” The next year he led four times for 43 laps but faded at the end, and 2003 saw a slow final pit stop and a late caution ruin another chance.

The 2005 victory came when Stewart had finally found some peace both with himself – he had moved home to Indiana earlier that year in a search for some serenity – and the track. That breakthrough win ended the love-hate relationship Stewart always had with Indy.

“I think I got by the hate part once we won the second one,” he said. “You love the place because of the history of it, because it’s home. The hate part was we worked so hard, led so many laps, couldn’t win. Once we won the race, think it took that side of the equation away, made it that much better. We got to enjoy it that much more afterward.”

Ragan takes Brickyard pole

David Ragan won the pole for the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ragan was one of the last drivers to make a qualifying run and turned a lap at 182.994 mph to bump Jimmie Johnson from the pole. It is the second pole of Ragan’s career. The other came at Texas in April.

Kasey Kahne then made his qualifying run and his lap of 182.927 grabbed the second spot. Johnson dropped to third after holding down the top spot on the leaderboard for most of the qualifying session.

Penske Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski qualified fourth and fifth for Sunday’s race.

AJ Allmendinger, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 10.

Keselowski wins Kroger 200

Brad Keselowski stayed close to the leaders all night and was strong in the two green-white-checkered laps at the end to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Kroger 200 at Clermont, Ind.

Keselowski led only seven of the 204 laps and took his first lead in lap 198. He had earned the pole in his previous two races but hadn’t won.

James Buescher finished second after finishing second in the trucks race on Friday night.

Polesitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led 189 laps before finishing third. He led by nearly 4 seconds in lap 175 before the field tightened because of a caution following an accident.

Stenhouse still moved ahead of Reed Sorenson into the points lead. Sorenson finished ninth.

Vettel earns Hungarian pole

Sebastian Vettel reminded his Formula One rivals that Red Bull remains the team to beat in the championship after taking the pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest.

The F1 leader’s crew worked on his car through the night, and he earned a leading time of 1 minute, 19.815 seconds on his final lap.

McLaren took advantage of mixed weather conditions to qualify second and third. Lewis Hamilton was within two-tenths of the German leader and finished in front of teammate Jenson Button. Ferrari pair Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso followed, while Mark Webber will start sixth for Red Bull.

The defending F1 champion Vettel has a 77-point lead in the standings on Webber, and Hamilton trails by 82 points.

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