Tony Stewart beats Jimmie Johnson to Las Vegas NASCAR Sprint Cup win
|By Diego Mejia||Sunday, March 11th 2012, 23:47 GMT|
Tony Stewart resisted a charging Jimmie Johnson to claim his 45th NASCAR Sprint Cup career win and his first ever at Las Vegas.
The reigning champion was unbeatable on restarts in the decisive stage of the race, taking the lead for good with a bold move after the fifth caution of the day.
Stewart had been a contender since the early stages and survived a brief scare during the first half of the race when some debris blocked the air intake of the Stewart-Haas Chevrolet's radiator as he was attacking for the lead for the first time.
He eventually got up front after that but his key move came 33 laps from the end. The three-time champion had opted for only two new tyres on his penultimate stop, while most of his key rivals had gone for a full new set.
He also got just a splash of fuel on his last stop to try to remain ahead in clear air and although both Clint Bowyer (Michael Waltrip Toyota) and Penske's Brad Keselowski stayed out trying to stretch their fuel mileage, Stewart quickly powered past them, never surrendering the lead again.
While he was in control after that, three different cautions waved but in each of them he was able to remain up front, holding back Keselowski, Roush Fenway's Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, as well as Johnson in the final two green flags.
The final restart came only four laps from the end and Stewart drove some of his quickest laps of the race to keep Johnson in his mirrors and claim victory for the first time at Vegas, one of only three Cup venues he had not won at before.
Stewart's victory was also his first with new crew chief Steve Addington after parting ways with Darian Grubb following their championship at the end of last year.
"Every time the caution came out, I'm like 'not again'," said Stewart. "You wonder how many times you are going to give them a chance at it on a restart there, and when are they going to be able to capitalise on us. But, that was our strong suit today. We were really strong on the restarts."
Johnson was disappointed to miss out on victory and was surprised by Stewart's supremacy on restarts. The four-time Vegas winner still made an impressive comeback from the rear of the field, after crashing his primary car on his first lap of final practice on Saturday.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver had actually completed just 20 practice laps in his back up car before Sunday.
"Definitely a lot to be proud of today," said Johnson. "I think we had maybe a little bit more speed, but Tony could really get away on those restarts through the gears a lot better than I could.
"I will have to look into that and see if I was doing something wrong or something else is going on there."
Biffle finished third for the third week in a row and moved up to the points lead following another solid run. His team-mate Kenseth had been his squad's main contender for victory but his hopes were dashed on the final restart when contact with team-mate Carl Edwards while fighting for position ended up with him hitting the wall.
"Carl just laid back and got by me three-wide and then it just didn't seem like there was a lot of room getting into [Turn] 1," said Kenseth. "And then I did get clear behind him and he just stopped in the middle of the corner. I don't really know what happened."
Stewart's team-mate Newman was a solid fourth ahead of Edwards while Bowyer succeeded at saving enough fuel to make it to the chequered flag without an extra stop to finish sixth.
Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard was a solid seventh ahead of Earnhardt-Ganassi's Jamie McMurray while Trevor Bayne impressed in the final stages, coming back from being a lap down to cross the finish-line in ninth ahead of early race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Local hero Kyle Busch made great progress in the first half of the race but then hit the wall after running over fluids left by Travis Kvapil's engine blowing up. He then made a second charge but spun at Turn 4 six laps from the end to bring out the final caution.
Results - 267 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 2h54m44.000s 2. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 0.461s 3. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 1.526s 4. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 1.919s 5. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 2.371s 6. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 3.291s 7. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 3.423s 8. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 3.819s 9. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 4.465s 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 4.664s 11. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 4.832s 12. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 5.722s 13. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 5.762s 14. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 6.207s 15. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 6.505s 16. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 6.517s 17. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 6.744s 18. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 6.891s 19. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 7.127s 20. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 7.599s 21. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 8.145s 22. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 12.983s 23. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap 24. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 1 lap 25. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 3 laps 26. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 3 laps 27. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 3 laps 28. David Stremme Inception Toyota + 4 laps 29. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 4 laps 30. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 4 laps 31. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 6 laps 32. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 8 laps 33. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 9 laps 34. Brendan Gaughan Childress Chevrolet + 15 laps Retirements: Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet 241 laps Landon Cassill BK Toyota 240 laps AJ Allmendinger Penske Dodge 238 laps Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 148 laps Travis Kvapil BK Toyota 123 laps Josh Wise Front Row Ford 64 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 44 laps Timmy Hill Rick Ware/Max Q Ford 42 laps JJ Yeley Robinson-Blakeney Toyota 39 laps