WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Tony Stewart was more stunned than anyone.
With just two laps remaining in Sunday's Centurion Boats at The Glen at Watkins Glen International, Jeff Gordon had a two car-length lead on Stewart. NASCAR's top two road racers were preparing for a final clash.
It never happened. Gordon spun out on his own heading into the first turn, Stewart zoomed past, held off a late charge from Carl Edwards, and won for the third time in four races.
``Trust me, I was probably the most shocked person,'' Stewart said after his 36th career victory, tying him for 19th all-time with Dale Jarrett. ``Our only shot of getting by him was to keep the pressure on him and hope he'd make a mistake.
``I think our car was a tick better than Jeff's, but if Jeff doesn't make that mistake, we run for second,'' said Stewart, who has won four of the last five Cup races at Watkins Glen and finished second a year ago to Kevin Harvick. ``You were going to have to be a bunch faster to get by him. Whoever was in the lead with 10 to go was probably going to win the race.''
A dejected Gordon finished ninth.
``I was driving hard,'' he said. ``I just overdrove going into one. It was just stupid. I knew I had to push because Tony was really good.''
For Stewart, who spun out in the same place while leading earlier in the race and dropped to 19th, it was his sixth win on a road course, tying him for second behind Gordon's record nine.
``I saw Jeff lose it just like I lost it,'' Stewart said. ``I had to keep fighting back. Jeff has won four championships and 79 races. He's the last guy you expect to have a problem like that.''
All but assured of a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, both Stewart and Edwards fought hard for the victory. The top 12 drivers in the standings after 26 races will race for the title and the points for every driver will be reset at 5,000, but each win counts for an extra 10 points once the Chase begins. Gordon and Jimmie Johnson lead the series with four wins, Stewart has three and Edwards one.
Edwards made a desperate final try for another in the rapid four-turn Inner Loop coming out of the high-speed esses.
``I just figured, the heck with it,'' said Edwards, who went off course and finished eighth. ``I just didn't want to finish second.''
Denny Hamlin ended up second, Jimmie Johnson was third, Canadian road race ace Ron Fellows fourth and Robby Gordon fifth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a big blow to his chances of making the Chase with just four races remaining before the cutoff. After complaining in practice about how bad his car was handling, Earnhardt turned things around in the race and was running up front much of the day. But while running third behind Gordon and Kurt Busch, the engine in the red No. 8 Chevrolet blew, ending his day on lap 63. He finished 42nd.
It was the fifth DNF of the season for Earnhardt, four have been engine-related. He entered the day trailing Busch by seven points for the 12th and final spot in the Chase and dropped to 14th, four points behind Ryan Newman and 100 points behind Busch, who rallied to finish 11th after being penalized for speeding on pit road.
``I was hoping for a good showing and have something to be proud of,'' Earnhardt said. ``I'm kind of disappointed. We have a couple of races left and there's no telling what will happen in those.''
Rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, who won a Busch Series race in Mexico and the Cup race at Sonoma in June, was bidding to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win three road races in a season. He failed in Saturday's Busch race, finishing 33rd after being involved in an accident, and on Sunday he had another altercation.
Montoya and Harvick got together with less than 20 laps remaining in the 90-lap event while both were running in the top 10, and ended up in a shoving match after their cars got banged up. Harvick finished 36th and Montoya was 39th.
It was the second road race for the boxier Car of Tomorrow, and there was plenty of action with eight cautions and even a red flag flying.
Stewart and Gordon had the staunchest cars all race. Gordon led the first 13 laps, then Stewart took over for the next 11 circuits around the 11-turn, 2.45-mile course. But Stewart slid off track going into turn 1 on lap 45, giving the lead back to Gordon.
Stewart immediately began to charge back and was back in the top five by lap 66.
Then the drama began to build. On a restart on lap 67, Stewart passed Montoya for fourth in Turn 1 and set his sights on Hamlin and Edwards. Stewart went off course in the Inner Loop into the grass, and Hamlin did the same as he fought off the charge and dirt and dust flew.
Kyle Petty's engine blew seconds later to bring out the sixth caution and the contact continued on the ensuing restart. Montoya cut to the inside heading into the first turn, a 90-degree right-hander, blocking Martin Truex Jr., who hit the Colombian rookie's rear end, sending him into Harvick. Harvick and Montoya both spun around, and Montoya was hit hard by Jeff Burton.
The race was red-flagged for 26 minutes with 15 laps to go because there was too much debris on the track, and one fan tried to get an autograph from Matt Kenseth by jumping the blue guardrail that lines the course. Kenseth declined because he was a ``little busy'' and the fan was immediately escorted from the track.
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