HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Tony Stewart worked five days for legendary A.J. Foyt, and every time he felt like he did something good during that week of Indy car racing, Foyt would growl:
"Just look at the record books, just look at the record books."
Stewart now wants Foyt to look at the record books. His championship in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series made him the only person to win titles in both Indy cars and stock cars.
"I finally did something the old man didn't do," he said shortly after finishing 18th at the season-ending Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway to clinch the championship. "That week with A.J. was the most-frustrating week (and) one of the best weeks in my life."
He did it the same way Foyt won most of his championships: with a brooding, arrogant attitude and few apologies.
Stewart said the reason Joe Gibbs Racing won its second championship in three years is crew chief Greg Zipadelli. The man in charge of Stewart's team was a cheerleader, motivator and counselor throughout the season.
"He was the glue to this whole team this year because I was really tearing us apart early in the season and just didn't have the right frame of mind to do what we were doing," Stewart said. "He pulled us together. Not only was he a good crew chief, but he was one of my best friends and one of the biggest and best leaders you could have asked for."
Stewart hit bottom at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he did a dramatic fade in the last 10 laps to finish 12th. Moments after the race, he pushed a photographer to earn a $10,000 fine from NASCAR and a $50,000 penalty from his sponsor, Home Depot.
Zipadelli said his team used that race as a rallying point.
"We had some tough days, some frustrating days," he said. "It was a turning point for us. It made us stronger. It let Tony know what was going on around him."
Stewart said he was so difficult at midseason a couple members of his crew left the team. He said Sunday it wasn't their fault. He was too tough on the people who cared most about him.
The championship practically was a foregone conclusion before the race. Stewart only needed to finish among the top 22 to clinch the championship.
"I told you at Dover (when Martin was the points leader with eight races remaining) Tony Stewart was the one I feared the most," said Mark Martin, who finished second in the standings for the fourth time in his career. "Unfortunately we got too far behind. We fought for this one right down to the wire. This may be the best battle me and my people around me have every fought."
Race winner Kurt Busch finished third in the points standings. He improved from 12th place in the last nine races.
STEWART APOLOGIES: NASCAR met with Stewart and freelance photographer Rusty Jarrett of Augusta, Ga., late Saturday and determined Stewart accidentally ran into the photographer as he stood in the garage area Saturday.
During the meeting that also involved NASCAR president Mike Helton, director of competition John Darby and vice president Jim Hunter, Stewart apologized to Jarrett.
A day later, Jarrett wasn't at the speedway. According to sources at Getty Images, his company asked him not to work Sunday's race to avoid any possible controversy.
THE JOB MARKET: Chip Ganassi wanted Dave Blaney to replace Jimmy Spencer in the No. 41 Dodge next year, but Blaney said Sunday he's committed to returning to Jasper Motorsports and the No. 77 Ford.
With Blaney off the market, Busch Series driver Hank Parker Jr. now is the leading candidate at Ganassi.
Bobby Hamilton, who left Andy Petree Racing's No. 55 Chevrolet after Sunday's race, admitted he and Spencer probably will be the odd men out in the job hunt. Hamilton said he's ready to drive for himself on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2003 if he can't find a ride with one of the upper tier teams in Winston Cup. His only hope at that level is with Ganassi.
Spencer's problem is there are no more vacancies remaining in Winston Cup, unless he can convince Petree to change his mind.
Ken Schrader is poised to move over to Petree, but that team still needs sponsorship.
TESTING, TESTING, TESTING: The 2002 racing season is over and the 2003 campaign officially got started today with a massive test session for General Motors at Homestead.
About 20 teams are scheduled to shake down new 2003 Pontiac and Chevrolet models that were developed by GM engineers and NASCAR. The cars will have striking similarities to the Dodges and Fords already on the circuit as the sanctioning body continues to move closer to a common template.
Scheduled to test today and Tuesday are Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Joe Nemechek, Jerry Nadeau, Johnny Benson, Steve Park, Michael Waltrip, Mike Skinner, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Green, Ricky Craven and Tony Raines from the Winston Cup Series, and Joe Nemechek, Stacy Compton, Jack Sprague and Johnny Sauter from the Busch Series.
Also, Martin is scheduled to test at the Kentucky Speedway on Tuesday.
PIT STOPS: Matt Kenseth finished with the most victories (five) on the Winston Cup Series, but 10 finishes of 30th or worse relegated him to an eighth-place position in the overall standings. That's the worse finish for any driver to lead the series in wins. ... Bobby Labonte's gas man, Peter Jellen, suffered minor burns to his neck when spilled gasoline on pit road erupted in flames. ... Brittney Spears watched the race from Stewart's pits. ... Todd Bodine, who crashed hard in Thursday's qualifying session for the Busch Series, skipped Sunday's race. He was replaced by his oldest brother, Geoffrey.
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