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Stewart, after flap, takes pole at Daytona


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Tony Stewart, who seems to run better when he's surrounded by a little controversy, won the pole yesterday for tonight's Pepsi 400, two days after an altercation with a fan at Daytona International Speedway.

He downplayed the incident after qualifying.

"It's a pretty petty deal," Stewart said. "It's not something that we're even worried about. We've discarded it already."

Elliott Sadler was sixth fastest in a Ford, followed by the Chevys of Kevin Harvick and Jason Leffler and Rusty Wa l l a c e 's Dodge . Ke rry Earnhardt's fast lap gave Chevy eight of the top 10 spots in the field of 43.

Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon qualified 15th. Nextel Cup points leader Greg Biffle was 18th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his season-long slump and wound up 39th.

Stewart, meanwhile, won his first pole of the season and his first at Daytona. It came after a run-in at the track Wednesday night.

NASCAR's bad boy allegedly yelled and cursed at a fan after she slowed him up entering a tunnel to the speedway. Pamela Williams, of Hobe Sound, Fla., said Stewart was flashing his headlights behind her as they entered the track infield.

"I stuck my hand out and made a motion to slow down, and this guy raced around me and slammed on his brakes," Williams told The Daytona Beach News-Journal. "He jumps out and started walking toward me - angry and irritated - like road rage."

Several track workers corroborated Williams' story. Stewart, meanwhile, offered conflicting details.

Stewart told the newspaper that the woman gestured for him to pass her and then waved her middle finger at him as he drove by.

"I say, 'By God, I'm going to find out what this girl's problem is.' So I back up, go to where she stops, get out and walk up to her window," Stewart explained. "I go, 'What's your problem.' She says, 'I think I know who you are.' I said, 'It doesn't matter who I am. What's your problem?' She wouldn't tell us. And that was it."

Stewart later told a security guard he didn't want to pursue the issue, and Williams opted not to call police.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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