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Rumble in Fort Wayne -- Saturday story
Join Date: Dec 2007
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14th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne
Friday, Dec. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011│Memorial Coliseum Expo Center│Fort Wayne, Ind.
Clock doesn’t strike midnight for Stewart
By RON WARE
FORT WAYNE, Ind. – With 56 minutes to spare, Tony Stewart squeezed yet another victory into a year that already was reaching mythical proportions.
Taking the checkered flag at 11:04 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, the three-time NASCAR champion completed a weekend sweep of the 14th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne indoor midget races, winning Saturday’s 50-lap feature in dominating fashion.
While he celebrated with a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, not champagne, Stewart seemed to treasure his latest accomplishment as much as his hard-fought Sprint Cup title.
“This is the first time I’ve ever raced on New Year’s Eve,” the 40-year-old Indiana native said, a smile creasing his face. “It’s been a dream year. I won by first World of Outlaws race and the (NASCAR) championship. Then I won at Conseco (in an all-star kart race in Indianapolis) and won here two times.
“What a great way to finish the year. It’s going to be hard to keep this up, but it’s going to be a lot of fun trying.”
Even Stewart seemed astonished when somebody pointed out that he’s won an amazing eight times in his past 13 races, starting with his 5-for-10 charge to the NASCAR championship. His numbers at the 1/6-mile track at the Memorial Coliseum Expo Center are similar. After sweeping the two-day program for the second time in his career, he’s won nine times in 14 career starts. He’s been the fast qualifier in each of his past 10 appearances.
Stewart’s road to victory lane wasn’t smooth, however. A series of caution periods and constant lapped traffic challenged him all the way, even though he was untested after pole-sitter David Gough dropped out on lap 18 with a broken ignition, handing him the lead.
How tough of a night was it for his rivals? Jon Stanbrough finished second in a car that caught fire early in the race. Rex Norris III, Billy Wease and Dave Darland completed the top five, each taking turns coming from the rear of the field.
During a caution, Stanbrough pulled into the infield as smoke billowed from his car’s engine compartment. Fire crews doused the small fire, which originated when a piece of heat insulation touched the header, and Stanbrough rejoined the fray.
“I was just trying to light a fire under my driver,” team owner Rick Daugherty quipped.
Stewart nudged a sliding Gough in turn three on lap nine, temporarily taking the lead, but the yellow then came out for Rich Corson’s spin, restoring Gough to first place. Nine laps later, though, Gough suddenly slowed with a failed ignition.
“I was trying to protect the bottom (of the track) and make it hard for him to get around me,” said Gough, a veteran whose career includes an indoor win at the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis. “I didn’t think he was going to rough me up.”
Stewart confirmed that he was intent on making a clean pass.
“Gough’s a good race car driver,” he said. “Our car was working so good, it was just a matter of catching him at the right time. I already decided I was going to be nicer tonight.”
Ryan Smith won the accompanying winged outlaw modified midget feature, while Doug Jones topped a short field in mini-sprints. Jason Dunn dominated in karts, winning three features for the second night in a row. Addison and Bennett Lushin made it a family affair in quarter midgets, each winning a feature.
Stewart first raced at Fort Wayne in 1999, after he already had won an IndyCar championship and NASCAR rookie-of-the-year honors. Mike Fedorcak, his indoor teammate and builder of his Volkswagen-powered Munchkin car, figures Fort Wayne hasn’t seen the last of him.
“He’ll still be racing here when he’s as old as I am,” the 57-year-old Fedorcak predicted. “He just loves it.”