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Smoke's popularity on the rise

Updated: June 18, 2009, 4:46 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

There is muffled glee inside the Tony Stewart camp. It's about more than his being the first owner/driver to lead the points in 17 years and the first to win a race in 11.

It's pride about a significant undercurrent in NASCAR: merchandising -- "souvenir sales," in NASCAR business-speak.

In it, Stewart has pulled alongside and is challenging Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has dominated this race since his father died.

By some measures, Stewart is actually ahead by a bumper.

Jackets, ...

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