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Stewart learns touch lessons from the master
1999 News
Matthew Leach, NASCAR Online

Bristol, Tenn. (Aug. 28, 1999)
Tony Stewart, the rookie everyone says isn't really a rookie, got a couple of lessons about NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing Saturday under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He learned how a master attacks the treacherous .533-mile oval; he learned just how far you sometimes have to go to win at Bristol; and he learned that no matter how hard you try, sometimes you absolutely cannot avoid other people's trouble.

Unfortunately, his education was rather hands-on.

Stewart dominated the first half of the event, leading from lap 27 until the halfway point, when he fell behind on a pit stop. Even after that, he was never far from the lead, and often appeared to have the best car on the track.

But over the closing 100 laps, he was faced with one of the toughest tasks in all of racing: getting around Dale Earnhardt when the Intimidator smells a win.

Stewart tried over and over to get around the black No. 3, but every time Earnhardt shut the door. If he could have gotten around the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion, he might well have challenged then-leader Terry Labonte for his first series win.

He never got around Earnhardt.

"It's always fun racing him," Stewart said. "I can't think of a better guy I'd rather race for the win than him. If you can beat him for your first win that means a lot."

Earnhardt, meanwhile, gave Stewart credit for being a talented driver, but claimed that he never felt threatened by the bright orange Pontiac in his rearview mirror.

"I was in front of him," Earnhardt said when asked about racing the rookie. "I didn't get to race side-by-side with him. I'm sure he was eager to win his first race, but he didn't get beside me any so I was comfortable."

Once Earnhardt had subdued Stewart, he charged after Labonte, and that battle cost Stewart more than any struggle that he was directly involved in.

The two veterans swapped the lead repeatedly over the final stretches of the race, but the final swap had a lot of take and not much give. Earnhardt -- intentionally or accidentally, depending upon whom you ask -- bumped Labonte and put the No. 5 in the wall in Turns 3 and 4 for his ninth career win at Bristol.

Stewart checked up to avoid the wreck, and not only lost two positions in the shuffle, but also came out with a dinged-up race car. Even after a cool-off session inside the Home Depot hauler, Stewart still had a little steam coming out of his ears about the incident.

"I'm one of those people when I get mad, nobody wants to be around me for five minutes, 10 minutes," Stewart said. "I guess if I wasn't mad like that Joe Gibbs wouldn't want me driving his race car and I wouldn't be as competitive as I am.

"It's just hard," Stewart said. "It's hard when you work that hard to stay clean all day. Then to have it end like that is just hard to swallow."