Tony Stewart once said he'd trade all his wins and trophies for just one victory at his beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now he has two, and they couldn't be more different.
The first gave him peace.
The second was pure joy.
Stewart scored his second victory in three years at the Brickyard on Sunday, beating buddy Kevin Harvick in a classic duel to the finish in the Allstate 400. Stewart showed he has now mastered the track that caused him a decade of heartache and once threatened his career.
"I'll enjoy this one more than the first one," he said. "The first one (in 2005) was like taking the weight of the world off your shoulders. When you grow up 45 miles from here, and driving down 16th and Georgetown in a wrecker and thinking 'Man, what it would feel like to be 150 yards inside that fence running 200 mph?'
"I got to come here in stock car and win, that was such a weight off our shoulders ... everyone knew how much. Today, it's like we're happy now. It wasn't like it was the untouchable anymore."
The Indiana native's shrine was also his demon, and the track taunted him with heartbreaking near-misses.
It made his 2005 breakthrough victory a tense but electric affair.
This time he made it look downright easy.
Stewart led a race-high 66 of 160 laps, but was passed by 2003 race winner Harvick on a restart with 20 to go. But Stewart didn't feel as if his world would end if he didn't regain the lead.
"I just went down there on the restart and got real, real tight for some reason," Stewart said. "Kevin got by us and I knew after 15 laps I could get around him. So I was just trying to be patient,
He never panicked as he chased down Harvick, even taunting his friend over the radio. "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty," he called. "Come get you some of this."
The two-time series champion closed on Harvick and made at least two attempts to pass, only to be rebuffed. Stewart finally powered alongside with 10 to go, but Harvick wouldn't relent and the two Chevrolets touched as they drag-raced around the historic 2-1/2-mile oval.
"That's a hard guy to race there. He's a clean guy. That's one of my best friends," Stewart said, calling the contact between the two cars his mistake.
The pass completed, Stewart held steady and cruised the final 25 miles. With six to go, his in-car camera caught him casually drinking from a water bottle with no hands on his steering wheel as he headed down the straightaway at more than 200 mph.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the 2000 Indy 500 in his only appearance, chased down Harvick to finish second - his best on an oval since leaving Formula One last summer.
"I don't think anyone had anything for Tony," Montoya said. "His car was way too fast. But second here at the Brickyard, it was awesome."
Jeff Gordon, the series points leader and four-time Brickyard winner, was third. Harvick faded to seventh.
The victory made Stewart a favorite to win the Nextel Cup this season - six of the past nine Indy winners went on to win the Cup, including the past two.
Stewart himself did it in 2005.
"But does that mean it's a shoo-in? I wouldn't mortgage my house on it," he said. "Yet."
The race was not so kind to Jimmie Johnson, the defending race winner and Cup champion, or Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Johnson recovered from an early wreck only to hit the wall when his tire erupted midway through the race. He climbed from his burning car as flames shot inside the cockpit and wound up 39th.
Earnhardt led 33 laps early and was running fifth when his motor failed, consigning him to 34th.
LOOK OUT!: The first half of the race looked like a demolition derby. There were six yellows for crashes in the first 60 laps and two more to clear debris from the track during the next 30 laps.
One of the crashes was an eight-car collision in the narrow second turn. Jamie McMurray and Johnson got it started, drawing in others as debris scattered over the track.
"Your perspective on TV is so much different than what you feel in the car. You just don't realize how much you're sliding around here," McMurray said. "You're pretty much already out of control, and when their momentum gets lost or someone makes a fast move like that, it's hard not to run into each other."
ROUGH DAY: Matt Kenseth looked tired and frustrated as he left the garage even after finishing 10th.
"We had probably a 25th-place car ... so somehow we were able to steal some spots and finish it, but we ran just terrible," Kenseth said.
Kenseth, the 2003 series champion, had placed among the top five in four of his previous five Indy starts and was runnerup in 2003 and 2006.
Average speed: 117.379 mph
Time of race: 3 hours, 24 minutes, 28 seconds.
Margin of victory: 2.982 seconds.
Cautions: 9 for 36 laps.
Lead changes: 14 among 6 drivers.
Lap leaders: Sorenson 1-16; Stewart 17-19; Earnhardt Jr. 20-39; Stewart 40; Earnhardt Jr. 41-53; Stewart 54-61; Ky.Busch 62-76; Stewart 77-91; Biffle 92-102; Harvick 103-110; Stewart 111-126; Ky.Busch 127-128; Stewart 129-140; Harvick 141-150; Stewart 151-160.
Through 20 of 36 races. The top 12 through 26 races make the Chase for the Championship:
Driver Pts. Bk.
1. Jeff Gordon 3076 -
2. Denny Hamlin 2705 371
3. Matt Kenseth 2699 377
4. Jeff Burton 2633 443
5. Tony Stewart 2624 452
6. Carl Edwards 2582 494
7. Kevin Harvick 2488 588
8. Kyle Busch 2479 597
9. J. Johnson 2469 607
10. Clint Bowyer 2405 671
11. Martin Truex 2335 741
12. D.Earnhardt Jr. 2217 859
Note: Unofficial standings. NASCAR will release official points today.
Pennsylvania 500, 1 p.m. Sunday, Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa. TV: ESPN