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TURKEY NIGHT GRAND PRIX: STEWART GETS HIS TURKEY.

Byline: Keith Lair Staff Writer

IRWINDALE - Tony Stewart finally made it count.

Disappointed after losing the Home Depot Turkey Night Grand Prix for midgets on the last lap last year, the second-year NASCAR Winston Cup driver returned Thursday to Irwindale Speedway and won the 60th running of the race in front of a sellout crowd of 7,500.

Stewart, from Rushville, Ind., qualified fifth but was on the first row when the top six cars were inverted for the start of the 100-lap race. He beat teammate Dave Darland to the corner in turn 1, and except for the middle stretch of 50 laps, it was Stewart's race to lose.

The race was dominated by Stewart and his Steve Lewis teammates, Kasey Kahne, Jason Leffler and Darland. Lewis cars held the first three spots early on, with Darland quickly dropping back. Stewart led Kahne - the national midget champion - until lap 4, when Kahne powered around the outside for the lead.

And at one point, it looked like Kahne would keep Stewart out of the winner's circle again. He built up a half-straight lead. But that changed on lap 46 when the engine belonging to Jay Drake of Val Verde died. The track got oiled and on the restart, Stewart lost his traction and moved quickly to fourth place.

A half-lap later, Leffler spun on the straight, in front of Stewart. No one hit him, and Stewart got right back in the hunt in second.

Another spin brought Stewart right behind Kahne and, when he found the right line on the restart, he got by with 27 laps to go. Stewart pulled away, and Kahne began reeling him, but it was too late.

The race had a serious crash on the third lap, drawing a red flag. The engine of Michael Roselli Jr. died on turn 3 on the second lap, and he was trying to get into the pits when the lead cars passed him at the pit entrance. Thomas Meseraull crashed into him in a fiery accident. Neither driver was hurt.

The top 14 qualifying drivers automatically advanced to the main event. Eight cars in two last-chance races also advanced. Michael Lewis of Noblesville, Ind., won the first heat and Rick Hendrix of Simi Valley the second.

Wally Pankratz kept his Western series championship hopes alive with a third-place finish in the first heat and qualify for the main event. He was able to hold off Bobby Boone of Palmdale to win the Western series division title with a 16th-place finish.

Track promoter Jay Agajanian allowed five non-qualifiers to advance to the main event, including Bud Kaeding and Mel Kenyon.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 24, 2000
Words:441
Previous Article:SOUND CHECK.
Next Article:WALKER AWAY FOR GOOD?


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