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Stewart blasts critics after doubleheader

by Jenna Fryer

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CONCORD, N.C. -- When his grueling 1,100 miles of racing were over, Tony Stewart had one word for his critics: Idiots.

Stewart, called selfish and accused of putting 42 other Winston Cup drivers in danger by trying to race in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, successfully completed the double Sunday.

He finished sixth in the IRL race, then flew to Concord for a third-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. That was an improvement from the first time he tried the double in 1999, when he finished ninth at Indy and fourth in the NASCAR race.

Afterward, he bristled at his critics -- most of whom condemned him through letters to the editors of racing magazines -- and questioned their qualifications.

"I read about how selfish people thought I was and I was putting the other drivers at risk and it hurt," he said. "They said I was all over the place the last time I tried this and I couldn't handle it. Well, that is a bunch of idiots talking about a topic that they really don't know anything about."

For a minute, though, it looked like the critics were right when he almost cut his night short in the NASCAR race.

Stewart spun out on the second lap of the Coca-Cola 600 and damaged the right front of his Pontiac. But his Joe Gibbs Racing crew patched up the car and sent him back out.

And had NASCAR's longest race been just a bit longer, he might have finished in the top two.

Although he never challenged winner Jeff Burton, he was charging hard over the final 10 laps. He moved up two spots over the final stretch and was gaining ground quickly on runner-up Kevin Harvick when the checkered flag fell.

"He had the fastest car out there," Harvick said. "There's no doubt he was faster than we were, but he just ran out of laps and finished third."

Burton, a preseason favorite for the championship, has been horrible all year. He had five finishes of 30th or worse, was 25th in the standings and was struggling to figure out why he and his Roush Racing teammates have been so off.

So his victory was a breakthrough for both him and team owner Jack Roush.

"If you don't like the fact that people think you can get it done, then you don't need to be in professional sports," Burton said.

"We worked really hard for a long time to get that respect, but the fact is we are not in a position to win the Winston Cup championship. That's not because people picked us to do that, but because we haven't done a good job of getting ourselves in that position."

But Burton and his crew put themselves in position to win Sunday night, gambling they had enough fuel not to pit when the final caution came out with 73 laps remaining. It put Burton in the lead for good and made Roush think the tides may be turning for his slumping empire.

"We just haven't had things go our way this year," Roush said. "I expect that to happen from time to time, but we finally got some in this race. The thing now is to get ready for every race and when you load the cars on the truck say 'I've done the best I can, let's go take our chances."'

Meanwhile, Dale Jarrett overcame starting from the rear of the field in a backup car and a cracked rib on his right side for an eighth-place finish.

Jarrett cracked a rib in practice on Saturday. So when he settled into his seat for the 600-mile race, his right side ached horribly.

"I just kind of put the pain out of my mind and said 'OK, now's the time that we have to go fast,"' Jarrett said. "You just have to withstand the pain and I knew we didn't have that far to go. The faster I went, the sooner I was going to get there and the pain would cease."

By rallying the way he did, he opened up a 75-point lead over Jeff Gordon in the points race.

"I guess we made something of the night," Jarrett said. "To gain points is just a bonus."

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