Stewart stretches fuel for 1st points win
LONG POND, Pa. -- All Tony Stewart could do the final laps at Pocono Raceway was use every trick available to stretch out his fuel and creep toward the finish line.
Like the gamble he made to leave Joe Gibbs Racing and start his own team, the fuel-mileage call was the right one. Stewart matched his win in the All-Star race with his first Cup points victory as a team owner Sunday, coming from the rear of the field in his backup car at Pocono.
Newton: Familiar Place
Critics thought Tony Stewart was crazy to leave longtime employer Joe Gibbs Racing for a chance to run his own team. David Newton asks "Who's crazy now?" Story
"We're just thankful we could make it," Stewart said.
He crossed the line on fumes, even as his own Stewart-Haas Racing operation seems to have plenty of fuel.
"It's easy when you've got the tools in place," Stewart said. "When you've got a car like we had today, you know that you've got a shot at it. It's just going to be a long day and it's going to take a long time to get there."
Stewart needed time to reach the front of the 500-mile race because of a practice accident that forced him into his backup car and dropped him to the back of the pack.
"I'd hate to think I've got to screw up every week to win a race," Stewart said.
Crew chief Darian Grubb's late-race strategy worked and Stewart became the first owner/driver to win a points race since Ricky Rudd at Martinsville in 1998.
Stewart made his last pit stop with 41 laps to go and figured he could drive the rest of the way without another break. He took the lead in the No. 14 Chevrolet with 37 laps remaining and roared to a 6-second lead over Carl Edwards that gave him a crucial buffer down the stretch.
Tony Stewart stretched out his fuel as far as he could to earn his first points victory of the season and became the first driver/owner to win since Ricky Rudd in 1998 at Martinsville.
|1. Tony Stewart, Chevrolet|
|2. Carl Edwards, Ford|
|3. David Reutimann, Toyota|
|4. Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet|
|5. Ryan Newman, Chevrolet|
|6. Marcos Ambrose, Toyota|
|7. Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet|
|8. Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet|
|9. Jeff Burton, Chevrolet|
|10. Sam Hornish Jr., Dodge|
Edwards pushed Stewart and whittled the lead down to about 2 seconds with inside 10 laps remaining, and the two-time Cup champion unsure of how much gas he had left in the tank.
"I didn't know how close we really were," Stewart said.
With a lead in the points standings and a spot in the Chase for the championship all but assured, Stewart could afford to take a risk.
Edwards, still looking for his first win of 2009, was convinced Stewart would run out of fuel. He was also sure Stewart would need more time to become so dominant and lead the points standings like he is only 14 races into the season.
Edwards was wrong on both counts.
"The things that he set out to accomplish this year were huge. I personally didn't believe he could get it done," Edwards said. "I'm extremely impressed with that. I can only imagine how good that feels to get that done."
The first Cup points race with double-file restarts finished without any confusion. The drivers meeting lasted nearly 30 minutes as final questions were answered on the new restart rules that line up the 43-car field following a yellow.
"I'm sure they'll refine it and make it better, but I think it worked out pretty good," Reutimann said.
So has Stewart's decision to bolt JGR to buy a 50-percent stake in his own team.
He's destroyed all expectations in his first season as owner and driver. It was the first points victory since he left JGR at the end of last year after 10 successful seasons and snapped a 19-race points winless streak.
This was the first points victory for the team since their 2002 debut as Haas CNC Racing.
His second-place finish last week at Dover allowed him to become the first driver/owner to lead the points since Alan Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup championship, a span of 556 races.
Stewart stretched his lead over Gordon in the standings to 71 points.
"There will be a banner hanging in the shop that marks this day and time in history for the organization," Stewart said. "But you can't sit on it too long."
When rain washed out qualifying on Friday, Stewart automatically sat on the pole as the points leader. He called this season one big dream and hoped he didn't wake up and realize it was time to get ready to go to Daytona.
Stewart wrecked his car in practice Saturday, then took some of the fastest laps of the day in his backup. He joked that if he knew the backup would run that strong, he would have crashed the first one right away.
Edwards is still looking for his first victory of the season.
"I'll probably be happy later today, but man, to be that close to victory and not win, that was frustrating," he said. "The points are great though. I'll definitely take something good out of this."
"At the end, we were just playing the fuel game and I didn't play it hard enough," Johnson said.
Reutimann, long a journeyman driver, jumped into 11th place in the points standings. Mark Martin fell out of the top 12 with a 19th-place finish.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press