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NASCAR notebook: Tony Stewart set to close this chapter of his racing career

After a 10-year relationship, Tony Stewart, right, and crew chief Greg Zipadelli have one more race together: today’s Ford 400.

Associated Press

After a 10-year relationship, Tony Stewart, right, and crew chief Greg Zipadelli have one more race together: today’s Ford 400.

HOMESTEAD — Tony Stewart will begin next season as a driver for and proprietor of his own Sprint Cup race team, fulfilling a longtime wish and commencing the next phase of his multifaceted career in motorsports.

But he has spent much of this weekend dealing with the emotions of his last race with the only NASCAR team, crew chief and many crew members he has had since coming to the series from the Indy Racing League in 1999. His 10-year relationship with crew chief Greg Zipadelli at Joe Gibbs Racing is now the longest in NASCAR. Zipadelli said it feels like they are getting a divorce.

"We all just want to do well because it's the last time that we're together," Stewart said after qualifying 13th on Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "It's a hard weekend for all of us. It's been hard on me already. Just dealing with some of the people that we've had to deal with has already made it worse than what it already is, but it seems like we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves because we want to end on a good note."

Stewart won 33 races and the 2002 and 2005 Cup titles with Gibbs in a tempestuous career in which his behavior sometimes overshadowed his performance. Stewart, 37, accepted a major stake in Haas CNC Racing this summer to create Stewart Haas Racing and hired fellow Hoosier Ryan Newman away from Penske Racing as his second driver. Stewart will be replaced at JGR by rookie Joey Logano, 18.

Dale Jarrett, who raced for JGR for three years, Yates Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing before retiring this year, said he understood what Stewart would feel.

"I know when my time came to leave Robert Yates Racing, whenever we came to last race, (it) brought back a lot of memories," he said. "Not that you question if you're making the right decision, because I think Tony is very comfortable in his decision and making the most of opportunity."

Other high-profile drivers to switch cars: Mark Martin is leaving his partial-schedule deal at Dale Earnhardt Inc. to replace Casey Mears at Hendrick Motorsports; Mears will drive a new fourth car at Richard Childress Racing; Reed Sorenson will leave Chip Ganassi Racing for Gillett Evernham.

No fear: Two-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson continued to suggest that he doesn't plan to just ride around leisurely today as he attempts to secure a third straight title. Johnson, who needs only to finish 36th, led the second practice session with a top speed of 167.665 mph. Carl Edwards, who is in second place 141 points behind, was seventh at (166.164). Denny Hamlin led the final round, with Johnson fourth.

On again: Daytona International Speedway president Robin Braig said he was assured by NASCAR officials Saturday that the sanctioning body would require its full contingent of truck series, Nationwide and Sprint Cup drivers to appear at a new version of the annual January "Preseason Thunder" fanfest. The event appeared in jeopardy when NASCAR banned testing at tracks that hold national touring series events. Daytona had built a fan experience for the ticket-buying public around two three-day test sessions to promote the pre-Daytona 500 Speedweeks in February.

Sprint Cup

Point standings

Only these 12 drivers are eligible in the Chase for the Championship:

Driver Pts. Back

J. Johnson 6,561—

C. Edwards 6,420 141

Greg Biffle 6,358 203

Jeff Burton 6,292 269

Kevin Harvick 6,233 328

Clint Bowyer 6,226 335

Jeff Gordon 6,151 410

Matt Kenseth 6,091 470

Denny Hamlin 6,090 471

D. Earnhardt Jr. 6,087 474

Kyle Busch 6,080 481

Tony Stewart 6,059 502

Today's Cup finale

Ford 400, 3:30, Homestead-Miami Speedway

TV: Ch. 28

Scouting report

Jimmie Johnson needs only to finish 36th or better (out of 43 in the field) to secure a record-tying third straight title, and doing so will test his patience. He noted last week that riding around in the middle of the pack is an invitation to trouble, so expect him to push harder than he needs. Carl Edwards, in second but a monstrous 141 points back, very much needs a $5 part to break on Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet to have a chance.

Brant James,

Times staff writer

NASCAR notebook: Tony Stewart set to close this chapter of his racing career 11/15/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 23, 2008 8:04am]
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