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Tony Stewart: Rude, Crude, And One Of The Best

I’m not sure who I rank as the best all-around driver I have ever witnessed do battle on a race track; but of the three at the top of my list, only one is still active... Tony Stewart. (Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt round out my own personal all-time Top 3). That's not a particularly controversial list of picks, to be sure - and certainly easy enough to defend. Of course, that's just as long as the debate is confined to how each of these drivers handle themselves while in the driver's seat of a variety of differing types of race cars... either on dirt or asphalt. For how they behave outside the race track is a whole different story altogether. But when the race is on, these men have always left little doubt that their talent is second to none. For example, last Sunday’s running of the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway did nothing but reinforce my belief that Stewart is worthy of the high opinion I hold for him as a race car driver.

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A Chase Dream Broken: Who Just Missed, Who Just Didn’t Make It, And Who Busted Up Trying

It’s postseason time in NASCAR, and despite it being the only points-paying system I’ve ever known, I still find it weird to hear the announcers, commentators, and analysts throwing around words like “postseason,” “playoff berths” and “wild cards.” That’s football or baseball terminology — even to this Brit. But here we are, I suppose, and regardless of the chagrin felt by many longtime fans it’s time for the 10-race Chase to begin. Beginning next weekend, the focus in the coming months will turn to which of these twelve men can win it all -- burying the stories of those who fell short. Over the next couple of months, there's plenty of time to see how the Chase unfolds with all its drama — manufactured or otherwise. But before the gentlemen fire their engines at Loudon next Sunday, let’s take a quick look at those who didn’t make the Chase, and particularly those who started the seasons with pretensions of making the final field of 12.

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Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In Sprint Cup : Pre-Chase Edition

After seven months, 26 races, and a rollercoaster of ups and downs, the 2008 Chase for the Championship field is now set. This year’s twelve participants will go at it in the fifth edition of NASCAR’s new format, battling through a ten-week playoff push that will culminate with a 400-mile shootout at Homestead in November. On that fateful Sunday, the sport will reach a new milestone, awarding the 60th championship trophy in the history of what’s now known as NASCAR’s Sprint Cup division. As we’ve seen in the past, it can sometimes be difficult to sort out playoff contenders from the pretenders. But on paper, who’s entering this year’s Chase with an edge over the competition? Read on to find out Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading into the final ten-race stretch...

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These Ain’t Shetlands: Nationwide Series Hails Return of American Muscle With New Car of Tomorrow

If there is one thing that the Nationwide Series has desperately needed, it is an identity. Once viewed as the stepping stone to NASCAR's premiere division, the Nationwide Series had degenerated in recent years into little more than an extra practice session for Sprint Cup regulars who were pulling double duty that weekend. Today, it has become something of a high speed parade, as engine regulations calling for a tapered spacer have removed any semblance of passing, throttle control, or maneuvering, while the trickle down effect of Sprint Cup technology has failed to spill over to some of the smaller teams that were once the backbone of the junior circuit. The Car of Tomorrow may take the bulk of the criticism, but it's clear that both the Sprint Cup _and_ Nationwide Series cars, in their current configurations, are flawed machines. But as Barack and Co. would have you believe, hope and change may be on the way.

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Talking NASCAR TV: Dramatic Richmond Race Had ESPN Covering All Sides

Just like Bristol a couple of weeks ago, made-for-TV storylines saturated Sunday’s Richmond race as much as Tropical Storm Hanna soaked the area late Friday and early Saturday. Not only were several drivers vying for the final transfer positions into the Top 12 in the standings -- thus qualifying them for the Chase -- but every driver in playoff contention wanted to win and gain precious bonus points on championship leader Kyle Busch. And if that wasn't enough, as the race unfolded two drivers in need of a win seemed to have the two best cars: David Reutimann led the most laps in a surprisingly good Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, seeking his first career win, while Tony Stewart led late in hopes of breaking an almost season-and-a-half long winless drought. ESPN's ability to simply broadcast the race turned into its own separate drama altogether. Since Hanna hit Richmond late on Friday, all of the television equipment was in place and used to cover practice and the pending qualifying sessions for both series.

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Running Their Mouth : Chevy Rock & Roll 400

_Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members, and the car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway:_ "The car was really strong at the beginning of that [final] run. That's the first time it had been that good. I knew it was going to get tight eventually, and it did -- [Tony Stewart] got to me, and so I went to the top and made a big arc out of it and held him off." _Jimmie Johnson_ "We just couldn't get by him [Jimmie Johnson]. We did everything we could -- we raced him clean, we raced him the way he would have raced us. I wanted to race him with respect -- the way he would me -- and we just came up short." _Tony Stewart, finished 2nd, after cooler heads prevailed_

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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Chevy Rock & Roll 400

*The Key Moment:* Tony Stewart ran down Jimmie Johnson with 10 laps to go, but Johnson found enough speed in the upper groove to prevail over the No. 20 car in a battle of the home improvement centers. *In a Nutshell:* Against all odds, on a nearly perfect day at a nearly perfect race track, the Cup series put on a nearly perfect race. *Dramatic Moment:* There were nearly 400 laps worth of them, with two and even occasional three-wide racing for the lead to go along with side by side racing throughout the pack. There’s no doubt that the most popular moment of the race for the fans on hand was watching Junior send Kyle Busch spinning. Junior clearly slammed on the brakes to stay off the No. 18 car but from the cheap(er) seats, it must have looked like a little payback for the Richmond Spring race. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* OK, so Johnson made his point Sunday. It’s *no longer a two man race* for this year’s title. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are going to have to contend with Johnson as well. Oh, I know someone will say it was contractual, but it’s hard to understand why *ABC covered the IRL season finale,* bumping the delayed NASCAR race over to the ESPN outlet. Yeah, there was a good title fight in the IRL, but ratings numbers suggest the Mother Ship should have gone with the bigger event. Still, combined with an exciting F1 race Sunday morning and a thriller at Chicago with the IRL, this was a stellar -- if long -- day to be a race fan.

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Sprint Cup Rookie Report: McDowell Has Magnificent Return With Career Best Finish

*Rocky Rookie Performance / Rookie Wreck of the Race: Sam Hornish, Jr.* While Roger Penske’s current Indy Car driver, Helio Castroneves, was enjoying the fine taste of victory in Chicagoland, his former open wheeler and current stock car prospect Sam Hornish, Jr. was dealing with the bitterness of defeat. Hornish had such an awful day that I felt the need to devote both negative categories of this piece to him. The No. 77 went down a lap early, and only the competition yellow would give him a second chance to salvage a decent race. It would never happen, though, as Hornish would continue to struggle in the back of the pack -- falling a lap down again all before the 100 lap mark. On lap 201, Hornish’s day would get worse when he and the No. 1 of Martin Truex, Jr. made contact and spun coming out of Turn 4. Hornish would continue, but probably wishes he didn’t have to as the team could only muster a 38th place finish -- two laps off the pace.

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Ten Points To Ponder…After Richmond

*8. Busch Whacking...Junior Style* - Stock car racing's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun out the sport's most booed driver, Kyle Busch, on lap 211 while battling for the lead Sunday afternoon at Richmond. Earnhardt, Jr., who led the race five times before settling for a fourth place finish, accepted blame for the incident and explained that he drove in too deep and made contact with the 23-year-old Sprint Cup point leader. “Not on purpose, as much as I would like to take credit for it,” said Junior. When a usually amiable and mild-mannered fellow like Earnhardt, Jr. starts taking jabs at you... don’t you think you might have a problem?

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Bubble Breakdown: McDowell Into Top 35; Blaney Into Bud Shootout

Forget the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship -- the drivers in our bubble breakdown are chasing a few goals of their own. With 10 races to go in the 2008 NASCAR season, the battle to be locked in the field for 2009 has become a dogfight for five spots between seven teams separated by a total of 79 points. Also on the line for several Toyota cars is a berth in next year's new-format Bud Shootout, in which the season's top six performing Camrys will be selected to do battle in Daytona. With so much at stake, how did our combatants position themselves for the final ten weeks at Richmond? Read on to find out in this edition of the Bubble Breakdown...

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