Pocono: Stewart takes first win of year

Defending Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart has finally taken his first win of the year at the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, using a slick pit-stop under caution to take the lead on lap 156, and then holding on until the end

Pocono: Stewart takes first win of year

The defending Winston Cup champion, broke through after several near-wins and costly calamities, notably last week at Dover, where a mid-race pit penalty likely cost him a win. He has had the fastest car at several stops this season.

"I figured something was going to happen," Stewart admitted. "That's been the storyline for us all year. That kind of made it easier on that last restart to stay focused. In the back of my mind, I thought surely something was going to happen here, so don't get too excited. That probably kept me calmer, made it a little easier to stay focused."

The race on the 2.5-mile tri-oval was perhaps the dullest of the season so far, with long, long stretches of green with little passing. The so-called aero push, plague of the wind-tunnel era, kept action to a minimum. There were 28 official lead changes, but only four of these came in-track.

Stewart's decisive move came in the pits, as he beat Sterling Marlin off the end of the service lane by a car-length. Marlin had led the most laps, 44, by up to 4sec at times. The only doubt arose from the fuel window. The race was restarted with 43 laps (107.5mi) to go, beyond the predicted 90mi range, so all teams would need a final splash of fuel.

With lap times at 55sec, the strategy here is to short-pit ahead of a potential caution. Teams began making their stops with 32 laps to go, with Stewart and crew holding out to Lap 176. When Jeff Burton and Todd Bodine completed the cycle on Lap 189, Stewart was back in the lead, by 1.7sec.

A caution on Lap 194 bunched the field and brought a single-file restart, but Stewart had little trouble getting away. "The fastest car was leading, so logically you're not going to see a lot of scrambling," Martin said.

A hard crash by Jeff Green (and another one, unconnected, between Greg Biffle and Mike Skinner), brought another caution with two laps to go, and Stewart crossed the finish line behind the pace car to take the win.

Three of the five cautions followed violent crashes. Ken Schrader lost his brakes headed to the first turn and backed into the wall, his car flipping over, then catching fire. Dale Jarrett crashed in the first turn, also with fire, when a tire blew. Green's crash was off Turn 2. None of the drivers was injured.

Points leader Kenseth again finished ahead of his main challenger, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished fourth. Kenseth leads by 176 points with the season approaching the halfway mark.

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