Forum Spin Doctor
HAMPTON, Ga. - Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman put on a show Saturday in the waning laps of the Crown Royal International Race of Champions season-finale, swapping the lead over and over before Truex finally gained control on the last lap.
Newman, who earlier got into a bumping battle with Mark Martin, wound up fourth when Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart shot past on the final turn.
Stewart, who came into the race leading the points, wrapped up his first IROC championship and the $1 million payoff from the series sponsor. With the third-place finish, the two-time Nextel Cup champion beat 2004 IROC champion Kenseth by 12 points.
"It's a four-race series and you can't have many mistakes," Stewart said. "I got off to a rough start at the opener in Daytona, with (Steve) Kinser crashing and flying right over me. But we came back and won the next two and got ourselves into position to win it.
"To be on a trophy with so many great names, like Al Unser Jr., Bobby Unser and Mark Donohue and great NASCAR drivers like Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, is something I'm really proud of."
Truex, 21st in the Cup points heading into Sunday's Bass Pro Shops 500, was ecstatic after taking the checkered flag.
"Such a good time. Such great racing," said Truex, a two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion and current Cup rookie who won the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second straight year. "You never knew what was going to happen until the last lap."
Truex, who finished third in the IROC points, was exhilarated by his duel with Newman that covered the last 18 laps of the 65-lap race on the 1.5-mile oval. They officially swapped the lead seven times during that span, but also passed each other several times before being scored at the finish line.
"We gave each other just enough room to get by," Truex said. "I'd pass him and he'd pass me back. That was just fun, probably one of the better races I've been part of."
Craftsman Truck Series champion Ted Musgrave finished fifth and Martin, who bounced off the wall late in the race, was sixth, giving NASCAR drivers a sweep of the top six spots. Eight-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel wound up seventh in the all-star field, just ahead of Grand American road racing's Max Papis and IRL IndyCar champion Sam Hornish Jr.
Martin, a five-time IROC champion who dominated the race until a planned caution flag after lap 40, had some heated words with Newman on pit lane after the race. But both later downplayed that exchange.