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RELAXED APPROACH WORKS FOR STEWART

Tony Stewart is witty and engaging, a superstar who can captivate an audience. He also can be rude and condescending, the kind of guy most people can't stand to be around. It's impossible to predict which Stewart will show up at the racetrack each weekend.

But the two-time NASCAR champion proved Sunday at his beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway that things are easier when he's playing nice. He stormed to his second win in three years at the Brickyard, a track that tormented him for almost a decade.

When he finally won there in 2005, he knocked a weight off his shoulders that had been building since childhood, when he and his father made the 45-mile trip from Columbus, Ind., to watch their heroes race every year.

One thing that win did was make "Tony the Terrible" understand that success is probably more attainable when he isn't miserable.

This year he arrived at Indy buoyed by his July 15 win at Chicago, his first this season, and relaxed from a quick getaway to the Bahamas. When he met the media for his weekly availability - a session that has a history of going from cordial to caustic in an eye blink - Stewart might have set a record by keeping it light for all but two questions.

But in typical Stewart fashion, the weekend wasn't controversy free. He's feuding with ESPN and doesn't want to talk to its reporters. And he christened their first Cup broadcast of the season by uttering a profanity in his post-race interview. That will probably get him fined and possibly cost him points, but Stewart didn't really care.

"Whatever happens, they still can't take this trophy away from me," he said.

MORE MERGERS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick strengthened the race teams they own Monday by partnering with their respective Nextel Cup team owners. Car owner Rick Hendrick will merge his Busch team into JR Motorsports, the Busch team Earnhardt owns. Harvick strengthened the existing alliance between Richard Childress and Kevin Harvick Inc., which races in the Busch and Truck Series. The deals come on the heels of Cup mergers last week between Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Ginn Racing, and a partnership between Robert Yates Racing and the open-wheel organization of Newman/Haas/Lanigan.

NEXTEL CUP

Points standings

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

Up next

Pennsylvania 500, 1 p.m. Sunday, Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa. TV: ESPN

Up next:BASKETBALL

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