Two weeks in a row, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race came down to fuel mileage. Two weeks in a row, Tony Stewart came out on the winning end. This time, Stewart was in a role reversal of last year’s Sylvania 300 with Clint Bowyer. Last year, Stewart ran out of gas with Bowyer winning the race. This year, it was Stewart taking advantage of a sputtering Bowyer with less than three laps to go to collect his second straight win.
“If that’s not a flip-flop from last year, I don’t know what is,” Stewart radioed to crew chief Darian Grubb after crossing the finish line.
A lap 156 caution for a spin by Landon Cassill allowed the race to play into the hands of Jeff Gordon, who, along with Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, and David Ragan, who were the only cars on the lead lap when the caution fell. Gordon, Martin, and Ragan pitted on lap 158 to ideally set them up to be able to go the rest of the way on one more stop.
The race in the closing stages became a fuel-mileage affair for the eighth time in 28 races this year. Clint Bowyer would take the lead with 40 laps to go, trying to stretch out a 74 lap green flag stretch on fuel, but Bowyer would fall two laps short as Stewart would pass him for his second win of the season and his 41st career win.
“I know exactly what that feels like,” Stewart said about the irony of his winning circumstances. “I know exactly how he (Clint Bowyer) feels right now. I saw him slow down the back and I thought ‘Oh, no, you’re kiddin’ me.’ That is not the way you want to win it for sure. We’re in the Chase now and we have to get everything we can get. I feel bad for him. It is fun racing him. I mean, he had the better car there at then. Our only chance was to catch him in lapped traffic. Head-to-head, he was a little better than we were. It is hard to lose them that way, but when you got…we finally got Mobil 1 in Victory Lane today.”
Brad Keselowski would finish second with Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, and Brian Vickers rounding out the top-5. Matt Kenseth rebounded from a mid-race spin after contact with Carl Edwards to finish sixth. David Ragan, Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Regan Smith rounded out the top-10.
Bowyer was relegated to 26th place following his fuel tank running dry in the closing laps.
The race was a frustrating affair for many of the current Chase contenders, even before the drop of the green flag. Kurt Busch had failed the pre-race inspection because the caps on the rear wheel did not the NASCAR template. The team had apparently been having inspection issues in recent weeks, and today did not get their car on pit road until during the pre-race invocation.
“It was a frustrating day,” a frustrated Kurt Busch said post-race. “Our Shell Pennzoil Dodge was certainly a handful. The front tires felt like they were on skids and the car was plowing through the corners. We were late going through inspection and that set the tone for our day.”
Some of the drivers who were bit by the bad luck bug included Matt Kenseth, who was involved in a spin after teammate Carl Edwards spun him out on lap 173. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would have a flat right front tire during the final round of green-flag pit stops. Another flat right front at the finish mired him back in the 17th position. Pole-sitter and July winner Ryan Newman also had a loose wheel in the closing laps, relegating him to a poor 25th-place finish.
Five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson finished in a disappointing 18th-place, following a late race dust-up with fellow Chase contender Kyle Busch. The younger Busch would go on to finish 11th in the race.
“It was just racing hard,” Johnson said post-race. “He was being stubborn for that position which was kind of the name of the game out there. And I had gotten inside of him the lap before and had some contact and he was running it really, really tight through the corner and as we got off into (Turn) 3, he was so tight next to me getting in, it took the air off the spoiler and I was out of control before we ever really got to the turn. We hit a couple of times. One of the times we hit, it whipped the wheel out of my hand and bent the right-front suspension and then we were kind of dead in the water after that.”
Denny Hamlin’s 2011 season woes continued, running out of gas with three laps to go, relegating him to a 29th-place finish.
Stewart now takes the points lead over Kevin Harvick, who finished 12th in the race, by seven points with eight races to go in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Cup.
The average speed was 116.679 mph as the race took 2 hours, 43 minutes, and 13 seconds to finish only slowed by three cautions for 14 laps. There were 19 lead changes among 15 drivers and the attendance was listed at 95,000 fans.
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