Tony Stewart found his way back to Victory Lane -- and he did it with one hand.
With fourth gear gone and third gear going in his Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet late in yesterday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Dodge/Save Mart 350, Stewart held his car in gear with one hand and steered with the other as he caught and passed Ricky Rudd for the lead and the win.
The former series champion took the lead at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., when pole winner and race favorite Jeff Gordon faltered with his own transmission trouble. It was Stewart's first victory since last August at Watkins Glen International, the only other road circuit on the Cup schedule.
This one was in doubt nearly to the end, though.
"I was just holding [the gearshift] with one hand in the end stages," Stewart said, grinning. "That was getting tough, especially when you're trying to pass Ricky Rudd."
Several cars, including those driven by veterans Rusty Wallace and Rudd, had pitted only a handful of laps before and stayed on track when Stewart made his final stop under the seventh of eight cautions in the race. Stewart restarted 14th on Lap 73 of the 110-lap event.
As Rudd caught and passed Wallace for the lead on Lap 83, Stewart steadily shot toward the leaders. He moved into second place on Lap 85, still trailing the leader by 2.7 seconds.
It was only a matter of time as Stewart, who had three second-place finishes this season before finally breaking into the win column yesterday, closed in. He finally got past Rudd's No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford with an inside move on the final turn -- a slow, hairpin right-hander -- on Lap 100.
Rudd got one more shot at the leader when the caution flag waved on Lap 103 because of debris on the track. But Stewart shot away on the restart on Lap 106 and went on to win by 2.266-seconds, about 20 car-lengths.
Transmission problems spoiled the day for three of the four Hendrick Motorsports entries. Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, who started alongside Gordon in the front row, and Brian Vickers were all slowed by linkage troubles.
Johnson wound up 36th in the points and, combined with Greg Biffle's 14th-place finish, lost the series lead that he had held since the fourth race of the season at Atlanta. Biffle now leads by 22 points heading into next Saturday night's race at Daytona.
* CHAMP CAR: Pole-sitter Paul Tracy was able to skirt around trouble and won Champ Car's Grand Prix of Cleveland, one year after a first turn crash knocked him out.
Tracy, who hadn't won on the Burke Lakefront Airport track since 1993, finished 3.113 seconds ahead of A.J. Allmendinger, who was carried from the track on a stretcher on Saturday after a nasty wreck during qualifying.
Oriel Servia finished third, 3.913 seconds behind Tracy, who won for the 30th time in his career. It was also Tracy's second win this season and gave him the lead in the series points championship with 128, one more than two-time defending Cleveland champion Sebastien Bourdais, who finished fifth -- 13.262 seconds back.
In brutally hot conditions, Tracy made it cleanly through the course's treacherous Turn 1, where several Cleveland races have been won or lost in the past, and avoided several other trouble spots on the bumpy 2.106-mile layout.
A year ago, Tracy started on the pole but was rear-ended in the first turn and sent to the garage.
Tracy led the first 29 laps before going to the pits for the first time. He didn't retake the lead until the 86th lap when Alex Tagliani was forced to stop for fuel and new tires.
Tracy then led the final five laps of the race, which was shortened to 91 laps from 94 to accommodate television coverage.