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Can anybody catch Tony Stewart? He could spend next weekend in Hawaii and still be the NASCAR tour leader at Bristol

  Tony Stewart is running roughshod over his rivals this season, with one top-five after another, and now three tour wins too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Tony Stewart keeps surfing the big ones like he's one of those Triple Crown champions, and NASCAR's sharks never really even got close enough to take a snap at the stock car tour leader.
   Stewart not only wrapped up yet another Sprint Cup victory, his third, but he continued an amazing streak – he's finished top-10 in 15 of the tour's last 17 races, stretching back to March.
   Even more amazing, 13 of those have been top-fives.
   And Monday's victory, by 10 lengths over newcomer Marcos Ambrose, was solid almost right from the start for Stewart.
   Down the stretch it was Stewart vs Ambrose, with Ambrose chasing, after the two had gotten around Kyle Busch.
   "We passed him on both sides," Stewart said proudly, referring to the two-wide restarts against Busch. "He lined up on the inside the first time, and we got back by him in turn two; then the second time he went to the outside, and we took the inside, and beat him into turn two.
    "I was proud we were strong enough to do it from either side.
    "With Marcos I didn't want to give him a chance to get to the inside, so we took that inside lane on that last restart, and once we got up to the esses up there I felt we were in good shape."
   But then most of Stewart's competition either shot themselves in the feet or just never had enough car and engine to make anything happen:
   -- Jimmie Johnson started from the pole, but faded early, finishing 12th: "I will have to reflect. In qualifying things came to mind…then in the race I watched guys drive away from me…."
   -- Ambrose's crew tried some odd strategy with an early pit stop – too early really – and threw him out of synch, though the hyper-Aussie charged back into contention late and looked like he might even have something for Stewart until the last five laps, when he faded.
   -- Kyle Busch, last year's winner here, had another rough day at the office. After three early wins this season Busch has hit something of a slump. He griped about his car after the race again. He even held the lead late but dropped like a rock back into the pack before salvaging a fourth.
   -- Juan Pablo Montoya, who ran into a rival crewman on pit road and left him with a bruised thigh, never really had quite the car he needed – or maybe he was indeed just playing it conservative, in this closing rush to the playoffs, with nine men vying for the final six spots: "I think something broke in the left-front suspension, and I was just plowing turning right."
   -- Jeff Gordon was a no-show, and then he crashed.
   -- Mark Martin, like Gordon, never showed much speed all weekend, strange for the Hendrick bunch.
   -- Ryan Newman got beat like a drum and struggled in 21st.
   -- Kasey Kahne, the Sonoma winner, had a few moments but nothing much like he showed in that surprise two months ago; he was a distant 17th.
   -- Pocono winner Denny Hamlin looked strong early but then ran erratically and never got back in the hunt. "That penalty (pit road speeding) early on really hurt us...but  to drop that far back and work our way back into the top-10 says a lot about this team. We had a car that could win today."
   -- Kurt Busch likewise – strong early, then vanishing.
   The two men who can really go home with their chins up high are Jack Roush's Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, both contenders down the stretch, somewhat unexpectedly.
    "It was a great run," Biffle said. "I could have gotten Kyle; he was running out of brakes, and my brakes were awesome. But I was out of gas. My fuel light was on every time I went around the carousal, so I just had to save."
   And Biffle still managed to hold off Montoya.

  And Steward still had enough gas after it all for a nice victory burnout (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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