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Rude-Host Stewart Wins Again At Charity Prelude To Dream

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 10 2009
Jimmie Johnson leads the field out of a turn at the Prelude charity race Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway in Ohio. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for True Speed Communication)

Jimmie Johnson leads the field out of a turn at the Prelude charity race Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway in Ohio. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for True Speed Communication)

By Nick Bromberg | Senior Correspondent

Tony Stewart may have a hard time getting his fellow Sprint Cup drivers to keep coming to the Prelude to the Dream.

After all, why would they want to come to Eldora Speedway and get their butts kicked by the track owner?

“Home track advantage,” second-place finisher Clint Bowyer said Wednesday night with a chuckle after Stewart’s annual race for charity at his dirt short track in Rossburg, Ohio.

“He’s not a two time champion of this sport for nothing. He’s one of the best drivers in the world.”

Stewart started sixth and was in the midst of a four way battle for the lead in the early laps with Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Kenny Wallace.

But on lap 11, Stewart slid past Bowyer and Busch and then on the next turn got past Wallace for the lead.

“This was an awesome race. We had a lot of fun tonight,” Stewart said, “This makes up for the spring rainout for sure.

Well, if it was an awesome race for Stewart – his third Prelude win in the last four races – it wasn’t awesome for everyone else after he took the lead.

Stewart was by far the class of the field from then on, and regained his giant lead a restart on lap 22 of the 30 lap feature after Bowyer got into Wallace, cutting Wallace’s left rear tire down.

“I didn’t mean it. Kenny spun his tires on his restart and kind of came across my nose. I tried to miss it, but he was already spinning. That’s the thing about these cars. You break traction and you can’t get it back,” Bowyer said.

That allowed Stewart to check out from the field.

“This is probably the best one I’ve won. We weren’t exactly perfect. We weren’t perfect because I hit the wall on the first two starts,” Stewart said.

Yes, you read that correctly. Stewart said he wasn’t perfect even after he had a straightaway’s length lead with two laps to go.

“We’re proud to do this. Thanks to Gillette and HBO, we’ve been able to do more than we ever thought here at the Prelude. The fans keep making it bigger and better every year. As long as the fans keep coming and I can keep getting drivers to come out, we’re going to keep doing this every year,” Stewart said.

Jimmie Johnson—who has very limited dirt track experience—finished 10th after starting 10th and winning one of the heat races before the feature.

“To win a heat race and beat Tony is awesome. Starting that deep in the field, it’s really tough to pass guys. So I just kind of rode around and had fun,” Johnson said.

And count Johnson as another driver who’d probably love to return next year.

“I had a blast tonight. It was a lot of fun. I never experienced movement like this before, so there’s a lot of new things I went through tonight and learned. All in all, really good.”

Cruz Pedregon may have a future on dirt.

Just days after controversially losing out to Robert Hight for the 10th and final spot in the NHRA Funny Car Countdown to One, Pedregon put on a fantastic show with the fans battling with Matt Kenseth for most of the night and finished sixth.

“I knew where I wanted to run on the track. Parnelli Jones once told me, ‘You’ve got to go where they’re not.’ My plan was to do what I did: slide guys and I wanted to make sure I cleared them,” Pedregon said.

“You know, for a drag racer – I’ve probably raced 12 Late Model races in my career that started about three years ago thanks to Tony and his whole group here – this is the most fun type of car I’ve ever driven. These cars are incredible, but they’re very difficult to drive. Had it not been the eight or 10 (Late Model) races I ran this year, I probably wouldn’t have passed anyone tonight.”

And Pedregon has officially caught the dirt track bug too. He went out and bought a car specifically for Wednesday night’s event.

“But this year I went out and bought my own car. I bought a rocket car. And I decided that this is such a neat event and it’s such an honor for a guy like me to come in a different venue, that I thought there are not many opportunities where you can race in front of a crowd like this, race with all these guys, so I invested in a car and went out to different tracks around the Indianapolis area and thought if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right,” Pedregon said.

Marcos Ambrose made his dirt debut Wednesday night, and it wasn’t pretty. Ambrose finished 18th after a mid-race spin, but if his Sprint Cup career is any indication, Ambrose will be much better if he comes back next year.

Joey Logano also made his Prelude debut, and it was uglier than Ambrose’s. Logano wrecked his primary car in the heat races, so he had to jump into Stewart’s backup for the feature. And he wrecked that too, running into Robby Gordon after Gordon cut a tire and slid sideways to a stop.

“It didn’t go so well. I’m fine. It was a good car again, driving to the front, running alright. And then they wrecked in front of me and I had nowhere to go on that. The track is fun, but you just can’t see three cars in front of you when you’re in the back like that. By the time you go into a corner and see it (a crash) and the track is so slick, and you just slide, and you slide and you just slide right into the wreck,” Logano said.

But much like Ambrose, it’s a safe bet that Logano will be much better next year.

Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Dave Blaney and Bill Elliott missed the Prelude after originally being scheduled to drive in the race before it was rained out. Edwards and Elliott missed it due to their injuries—a broken foot and fractured ribs respectively—while Gordon had a scheduling conflict and Blaney’s aunt passed away.

Denny Hamlin was scheduled to appear in the feature and was at Eldora Speedway, but ended up missing the Prelude thanks to an engine problem. The problem popped up during the heat races, and couldn’t be fixed before the race began.

Four military charities benefited from the pay-per-view broadcast of the race. The $24.95 purchase price went to the Wounded Warriors Project, Fisher House, The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and Operation Homefront.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 10 2009
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