DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tony Stewart seems to run better when he’s surrounded by a little controversy.

Stewart won the pole for the Pepsi 400 on Friday, two days after an altercation with a fan at Daytona International Speedway.

He downplayed the incident after qualifying.

“It’s a pretty petty deal,” Stewart said. “It’s not something that we’re even worried about. We’ve discarded it already.”

Stewart covered the 2-mile superspeedway at 185.582 mph, slightly faster than Scott Riggs and Jimmie Johnson.

Boris Said and Joe Nemechek, both teammates with Riggs, rounded out a top-five sweep for Chevrolet.

Elliott Sadler was sixth-fastest in a Ford, followed by the Chevys of Kevin Harvick and Jason Leffler and Rusty Wallace’s Dodge. Kerry Earnhardt’s fast lap gave Chevy eight of the top 10 spots in the field of 43.

Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon qualified 15th. Nextel Cup points leader Greg Biffle was 18th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his season-long slump and wound up 39th.

Stewart, meanwhile, won his first pole of the season and his first ever at Daytona. It came after a run-in at the track Wednesday night.

NASCAR’s bad boy allegedly yelled and cursed at a fan after she slowed him up entering a tunnel to the speedway. Pamela Williams, of Hobe Sound, said Stewart was flashing his headlights behind her as they entered the track infield.

“I stuck my hand out and made a motion to slow down and this guy raced around me and slammed on his brakes,” Williams told The Daytona Beach News-Journal. “He jumps out and started walking toward me – angry and irritated – like road rage.”

Several track workers corroborated Williams’ story. Stewart, meanwhile, offered conflicting details.

Stewart told the newspaper that the woman gestured for him to pass her and then waved her middle finger at him as he drove by.

“I say, By God, I’m going to find out what this girl’s problem is.’ So I back up, go to where she stops, get out and walk up to her window,” Stewart explained. “I go, What’s your problem.’ She says, I think I know who you are.’ I said, It doesn’t matter who I am. What’s your problem?’ She wouldn’t tell us. And that was it.”

Stewart later told a security guard he didn’t want to pursue the issue, and Williams opted not to call police.

Stewart, who was fined for punching a photographer in 2002 and won a race the following week in the midst of the criticism, declined to retell his version of the story after qualifying.

But he said he was surprised the incident drew so much attention.

“It’s pretty flattering to know that anything we do makes that big of news,” he said.

Truex wins Busch race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having more success as a car owner than a driver this season.

Martin Truex Jr., driving a car partially owned by Earnhardt, passed Kevin Harvick with four laps remaining and held on after a late restart to win the Winn-Dixie 250 at Daytona International Speedway on Friday night.

“As long as I was leading, I was in good shape,” Truex said.

The reigning Busch series champion won his first race at Daytona and extended his lead in the series standings to 71 points over Clint Bowyer. Reed Sorenson finished 20th and dropped to third in the standings.

Truex took over the top spot last week with a second straight runner-up finish, and he carried that momentum to Daytona.

He led a race-high 67 laps in his Chevrolet and won for the fourth time this season. Nextel Cup points leader Greg Biffle was third, followed by Kenny Wallace and Bowyer.

Earnhardt, who has no victories in the Nextel Cup series this season and is a disappointing 18th in points, ran second behind Truex for much of the night before blowing an engine with 21 laps remaining. It was another setback in a season filled with them for NASCAR’s most popular driver.

In fact, Truex’s success has been one of the few highlights for Earnhardt.

But how long Truex remains with Earnhardt under the Dale Earnhardt Inc. umbrella is unclear.

His Busch contract expires at the end of this season, and although the team has said he’ll drive one of its Cup cars next year, he has yet to sign a new deal.

“We’re going to win this championship and worry about this next year,” Truex said.

The prolonged negotiations have thrust Truex’s name into the free agent pool, and garage rumors had him in line to replace Rusty Wallace at Penske Racing. Truex maintained that his intention is to get a deal worked out at DEI, where he has grown into one of Earnhardt’s close friends.

Truex could have used Earnhardt’s help near the end of Friday night’s race.

The 25-year-old New Jersey native had the lead following a restart with eight laps to go, but he quickly got shuffled behind Harvick and Biffle.

Truex made several runs at them on the outside before finally getting to the front. But just as he took the lead, a 16-car accident – started when Randy LaJoie ran into Jon Wood – turned the 100-lap race into a shootout with three laps to go.

The race was red-flagged for nearly 28 minutes while officials repaired a portion of the wall.

After the delay, Truex blocked a strong attempt from Harvick to retake the lead and stayed in front the rest of the way.

Paul Menard, Joe Nemechek, Mike Wallace, Jason Leffler and Tony Raines rounded out the top 10.

AP-ES-07-01-05 2319EDT


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