JOLIET, ILL. — JOLIET, Ill. - This time, at least Tony Stewart had a victory to show for all the sound and fury he detonated - the brawl in the pits, the appeal that he be suspended, the boos that thundered down on him from the 75,000-seat grandstands at Chicagoland Speedway as he drove into Victory Lane.
Stewart dominated yesterday's Tropicana 400 so that no one doubted his Chevrolet was unbeatable on this day. But along the way, just before the halfway point, he bumped then-leader Kasey Kahne's Dodge in the rear bumper and sent it head-on into the wall. Several other cars got caught up in the wreck, while Stewart's car was undamaged.
Officials ruled it a racing incident and nothing more - "If there were any penalties because of that, they would have been called during the race," NASCAR spokesman Herb Branham said - and Stewart was adamant that it wasn't his fault. But this was Stewart, and so an uproar was almost compulsory.
Thus began the latest tempest in his stormy career, building on the bad-boy legend. Stewart was already on probation and had been fined $50,000 for roughing up rookie Brian Vickers after a race in Sonoma, Calif., two weeks ago.
Moments after yesterday's wreck, Kahne's crew chief, Tommy Baldwin Jr., stomped into Stewart's pits to confront his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli. Almost instantaneously, there was a pit-clearing set-to - mostly pushing and shoving - with the crew of Bobby Labonte, Stewart's teammate, joining in on the side of Stewart's crew.
NASCAR pit officials broke it up quickly, and after Kahne's car owner, Ray Evernham, got his crew settled down, he let loose with his own indictment of Stewart.
"He definitely needs to be suspended," Evernham said, "and he should have his [backside] beat. That's the problem with him. Nobody has ever really grabbed him and given him a good beating. And if he doesn't get suspended, maybe I'll do that."
Said Stewart: "Do I expect to be suspended? Not at all. I'd be shocked if anything happened, because I didn't do anything wrong."
The incident occurred on a restart from a caution period, on the 128th of the 267 laps.
Kahne's side of the story: "When we took off, I was in third gear, and right as I was getting ready to shift into fourth, I started getting a little loose. As I pulled it into fourth gear, my car turned right and went into the wall.
"Obviously, the 20 [Stewart] was in the back of me and just put us up into the wall. I don't know why he would do that or what happened. He had the car to beat all day. All he needed to do was go through a couple of corners, and he probably would have passed us."
Stewart's side: "All of a sudden, he checked up." That's driver lingo for slowing abruptly. "I got a real good run on the restart, got by the 40 car [Sterling Marlin], got back in line behind Kasey and didn't even try to pass him.
"His car wiggled for some reason. This was before I even got to him. I don't know if he missed a shift or what happened. I'd already lost my momentum, and he backed up to us. It was my fault that I ran into him, but I don't know what caused him to check up."
Stewart said he'd have been foolish to do such a thing intentionally, because "it could have torn us up easier than it tore him up, in reality."
"[But] that was blatant," Evernham said. "He [Stewart] got up against the back of him [Kahne] and stayed on him and pushed him probably for about 50 or 60 feet before he finally spun him out. I mean, you know when you're up against the back of somebody.
"Kasey said he wasn't really sure what happened. He just said the back of the car picked up [race cars' rear ends often lift up when hit from behind] and suddenly spun out."
After the melee in the pits, NASCAR officials called Baldwin to their mobile offices to admonish the crew chief and said last evening their investigation of the fight will continue this week, with no penalties to be announced until midweek at the earliest.
"Tommy's pretty upset, and he should be," Evernham said. "NASCAR's calling him up in the trailer to talk to him, but Tony Stewart ... sure needs to be up there, too."
Evernham kept on steaming. "Tony Stewart loses his temper and takes us out for the second time this year [the first incident with Kahne was in Darlington, S.C., in March]. NASCAR refuses to do anything about it. NASCAR needs to do something about it before somebody gets hurt."
Asked whether he had heard about Evernham's comments, Stewart said, "No, and to be honest, I'm not even interested in looking at them. We didn't need the accident to win the race. We had the strongest car.
" ... I'm telling you, whatever happened today, I didn't do it. I was right behind him, and his car slowed down. For what reason, I don't know."
Jimmie Johnson finished second but said he had no chance of beating Stewart. "We had the best car at one stage," Johnson said of a stint when he led, "but Tony had the best car all day and deserved to win the race."
Johnson increased his lead in the series to 105 points over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 22nd. Jeff Gordon is third, 242 points behind teammate Johnson. Stewart is 302 points back in fourth place.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
At Joliet, Ill. (Starting position in parentheses)
1. (10) Tony Stewart, Chevy, 267 laps, $336,803
2. (3) Jimmie Johnson, Chevy, 267, $208,640
3. (29) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 267, $183,592
4. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevy, 267, $172,453
5. (19) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 267, $130,575
6. (24) Terry Labonte, Chevy, 267, $123,075
7. (32) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 267, $126,200
8. (9) Joe Nemechek, Chevy, 267, $112,850
9. (39) Michael Waltrip, Chevy, 267, $129,556
10. (17) Kevin Harvick, Chevy, 267, $122,053
11. (20) Rusty Wallace, Dodge, 267, $121,908
12. (26) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 267, $127,853
13. (14) Jamie McMurray, Dodge, 267, $88,100
14. (4) Brian Vickers, Chevy, 267, $87,950
15. (12) Casey Mears, Dodge, 267, $92,150
16. (31) John Andretti, Chevy, 267, $73,250
17. (23) Robby Gordon, Chevy, 267, $107,837
18. (11) Bobby Labonte, Chevy, 267, $117,133
19. (22) Ward Burton, Chevy, 267, $75,150
20. (5) Greg Biffle, Ford, 267, $84,400
21. (13) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 267, $109,083
22. (25) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevy, 267, $116,828
23. (40) Scott Wimmer, Dodge, 267, $91,975
24. (18) Mark Martin, Ford, 265, $79,850
25. (34) Jimmy Spencer, Chevy, 265, $71,550
26. (42) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 265, $78,839
27. (41) Ken Schrader, Dodge, 263, $69,750
28. (38) J. Green, Dodge, 248, accident, $95,300
29. (16) Scott Riggs, Chevy, 245, $94,037
30. (15) Brendan Gaughan, Dodge, 240, $76,100
31. (7) Mike Bliss, Chevy, 205, accident, $65,900
32. (30) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 204, $91,256
33. (6) Jeff Burton, Ford, 197, $99,342
34. (8) R. Newman, Dodge, 166, accident, $111,667
35. (21) Kurt Busch, Ford, 151, $84,600
36. (2) K. Kahne, Dodge, 136, accident, $94,275
37. (36) D. Blaney, Chevy, 129, accident, $72,175
38. (35) R. Craven, Chevy, 116, engine, $71,975
39. (43) P.J. Jones, Dodge, 108, too slow, $63,765
40. (33) H. Sadler, Chevy, 103, transmission, $63,555
41. (28) B. Hamilton Jr., Dodge, 86, engine, $63,355
42. (27) K. Lepage, Chevy, 34, fuel pump, $63,170
43. (37) C. Blount, Dodge, 3, electrical, $63,207.
Time of race: 3 hours, 5 minutes, 33 seconds. Margin of victory: 2.925 seconds. Winner's average speed: 129.507 mph. Series standings: 1, J.Johnson, 2,720. 2, D.Earnhardt Jr., 2,615. 3, J.Gordon, 2,478. 4, T.Stewart, 2,418. 5, M.Kenseth, 2,321. 6, B.Labonte, 2,278. 7, E.Sadler, 2,252. 8, K.Harvick, 2,229. 9, K.Busch, 2,211. 10, R.Newman, 2,173.