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Stewart Gets Closer to Title

From Associated Press

Matt Kenseth turned a two-tire stop into his fifth victory of the season while Tony Stewart remained in control of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship points race.

Kenseth got out of the pits first after the leaders pitted on lap 261 of the 312-lap Checker Auto Parts 500, and stayed out front the rest of the way Sunday at Phoenix International Speedway.

Stewart and Mark Martin ran in the top 10 through most of the 500-kilometer race. Martin’s fourth-place finish, combined with Stewart’s eighth place, reduced the margin from 112 to 89 points with only next Sunday’s race in Homestead, Fla., remaining.

No matter what Martin does next week, Stewart will win the title if he doesn’t lead a lap and finishes 22nd or better; leads one lap and finishes 24th or better; or leads the most laps and finishes 25th or better.

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Kenseth, who had been running fifth early in the race, dropped to 11th after running out of gas during a series of green-flag pit stops and having to coast to pit road for his first stop on lap 122.

He kept his Roush Racing Ford near the front, though, and was third when the fourth and final caution flag of the race came out on lap 258 after Jason Leffler hit Christian Fittipaldi, a CART star making his first Winston Cup start, and sent him into the wall.

The leaders pitted on lap 250 with Kenseth’s teammate Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon ahead of Kenseth’s No. 17 Taurus. While Kenseth and Rusty Wallace each put on only two fresh tires, the others changed four and Kenseth and Wallace returned to the track 1-2.

That’s the way it stayed to the end, with Kenseth beating Wallace’s No. 2 Ford to the finish line by 1.344 seconds -- about half a straightaway on the one-mile oval.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Point Leaders

A look at the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point leaders going into the 36th and final race next weekend at Homestead, Fla.

*--* Rk Driver Points Wins Earnings 1 Tony Stewart 4,691 3 $4,597,598 2 Mark Martin 4,602 1 $5,116,318 3 Kurt Busch 4,461 3 $3,414,550 4 Jimmie Johnson* 4,453 3 $2,788,805 4 Rusty Wallace 4,453 0 $4,003,995 6 Jeff Gordon 4,452 3 $4,828,888

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*--*

*rookie


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