Tony Stewart was more stunned than anyone.
With just two laps remaining in yesterday's Centurion Boats at The Glen at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, Jeff Gordon had a two car-length lead on Stewart. NASCAR's top two road racers were preparing for a final clash.
It never happened. Gordon spun out on his own heading into the first turn, Stewart zoomed past, held off a late charge from Carl Edwards, and won for the third time in four races.
"Trust me, I was probably the most shocked person," Stewart said after his 36th career victory, tying him for 19th all-time with Dale Jarrett. "Our only shot of getting by him was to keep the pressure on him and hope he'd make a mistake.
"I think our car was a tick better than Jeff's, but if Jeff doesn't make that mistake, we run for second," said Stewart, who has won four of the last five Cup races at Watkins Glen and finished second a year ago to Kevin Harvick. "You were going to have to be a bunch faster to get by him. Whoever was in the lead with 10 to go was probably going to win the race."
A dejected Gordon finished ninth.
"I was driving hard," he said. "I just overdrove going into one. It was just stupid. I knew I had to push because Tony was really good."
For Stewart, who spun out in the same place while leading earlier in the race and dropped to 19th, it was his sixth win on a road course, tying him for second behind Gordon's record nine.
"I saw Jeff lose it just like I lost it," Stewart said. "I had to keep fighting back. Jeff has won four championships and 79 races. He's the last guy you expect to have a problem like that."
All but assured of a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship, both Stewart and Edwards fought hard for the victory. Gordon and Jimmie Johnson lead the series with four wins, Stewart has three, and Edwards one.
Edwards made a desperate final try for another in the rapid four-turn Inner Loop.
"I just figured, the heck with it," said Edwards, who went off course and finished eighth. "I just didn't want to finish second."
Denny Hamlin ended up second, Jimmie Johnson was third, Canadian road race ace Ron Fellows fourth, and Robby Gordon fifth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a big blow to his chances of making the Chase with just four races remaining before the cutoff. After complaining in practice about how bad his car was handling, Earnhardt turned things around in the race and was running up front much of the day. But while running third behind Gordon and Kurt Busch, the engine in the red No. 8 Chevrolet blew, ending his day on Lap 63.
He finished 42d.
It was the fifth DNF of the season for Earnhardt; four have been engine-related.
Champ Car -- Sebastien Bourdais finally conquered Road America, and he took a big step toward an unprecedented fourth straight Champ Car title along the way.
The Frenchman, who will move to Formula One in 2008, had failed to win on the 4.028-mile, 14-turn natural terrain road course in Elkhart Lake, Wis., in three previous tries. But he closed the deal in the Generac Grand Prix, starting from the pole and overpowering the 17-car field in taking his fifth win of the season.
Robert Doornbos and Will Power, his closest pursuers in the championship, both ran into trouble, allowing Bourdais to move out to a 37-point margin with only five races remaining.