Rivals hail new champion Stewart

Controversial NASCAR star Tony Stewart was delighted by the reaction from his rival teams and drivers after claiming his first Winston Cup title at Homestead on Sunday

Rivals hail new champion Stewart

The Joe Gibbs Pontiac ace finished a lowly 18th in Miami, but it was enough to beat rival Mark Martin by 38 points. The result makes Stewart the first man to win a major single-seater title - the Indy Racing League in 1997 - and a stock car championship.

Stewart was lauded by his rivals as he drove down the pitlane following Sunday's race. "Guys from Mark Martin's crew came out, guys from all the teams came out to congratulate us," he said. "As much as everybody wanted to get out of here and go home, they thought it was important to come out and see me.

"To have your peers come out there and congratulate you like that - I don't care what cheque Winston writes, I don't care how many trophies they give me - the feeling and satisfaction of seeing those guys out there is more than money can buy. It's like those commercials that say 'priceless'."

The title success ends a rocky year for Stewart, who was put on probation by NASCAR and his sponsor Home Depot for shoving a photographer at Indianapolis in August. Two weeks later he was accused of pushing a female fan out of the way at Bristol, but no charges were brought against him.

Stewart admitted that his troubles almost split the team apart. He paid tribute to his crew chief Greg Zipadelli for holding it together.

"There were times when people wanted to leave because they didn't want to work with me," Stewart said. "I didn't blame them. The way my attitude was mid-season, I wouldn't have worked for me.

"[Zip] was the glue to this whole team this year because I was really tearing it apart and didn't have the right frame of mind to do what we were doing. He really pulled us all together."

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