Race Weekend Central

Stewart Dominates To Claim Fourth Chase Victory

After winning the TUMS Fast Relief 500 on October 30th, Tony Stewart told ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch in Victory Lane that “…[Carl Edwards] better be worried, that’s all I have to say. He’s not going to have an easy three weeks.” Let’s just say that Stewart lived up to that statement on Sunday.

Stewart, who led a race-high 173 laps on Sunday, took the advantage for the final time on Sunday when Jeff Burton ran out of fuel with five laps to go. From there, Stewart was able to hold on to win his fourth race in the Chase.

Following the race, Stewart was very pleased with his dominant run, and even seemed to crack a joke or two.

“I think it was all right,” Stewart said in the post-race press conference with a gigantic, Cheshire Cat smile on his face. “I don’t know what we could have done any different. We had a good car to start with and…it was close enough [to perfect] that Darian [Grubb] was fine tuning all day.”

Greg Biffle started his 3M Scotch Blue Ford on the pole and led the race early. However, teammate Matt Kenseth was a force early on. He ran down Biffle and took the advantage away on Lap 24. As many of the teams prepared for the overcast skies that were forecasted, the unexpected sunshine made a lot cars difficult to drive. During this portion of the race, Kenseth was more or less the class of the field, pulling out to a lead of nearly five seconds at one point. Another driver that was very strong early on was Regan Smith, who moved up from his tenth starting spot to fifth by the first pit stop. However, as the shadows crept across the track, Smith began to drop back through the field. He would eventually finish a lap down in 23rd.

The race had a green flag feel early on. The first two cycles of pit stops were under green, and the field was part-way through a third cycle when the first yellow flew on Lap 113 for debris. The yellow put Stewart in position to challenge Kenseth for the lead, and challenge he did. On the restart, Stewart made a move on Stewart and briefly snatched the advantage. Kenseth fought back side-by-side for a couple of laps before Stewart consolidated his advantage.

Stewart was not legitimately challenged until the second yellow came out for an incident on the backstretch involving Geoff Bodine, Juan Pablo Montoya and Brian Vickers exiting Turn 2. Replays were sketchy, but it looked like Bodine was tapped from behind by Vickers. Bodine then slid into Montoya, which cut Montoya’s right front tire. Vickers took to Twitter after the race and denied this, claiming that Bodine spun on his own.

This crash happened during the fourth round of green flag stops, so the order was jumbled up. Kasey Kahne was on pit road when the yellow came out, so he was able to get serviced and stay on the lead lap. When everyone else pitted, this gave Kahne the lead. On the restart, Stewart wasted no time blowing by Kahne on the outside to reassume the advantage, but a new player, Marcos Ambrose, entered the fray.

For a time after the restart, Stewart and Ambrose fought hard for the lead with Stewart eventually coming out on top. Ambrose appeared to run the tires off his car trying to keep up with Stewart, so Kahne retook second.

If Jimmie Johnson’s chances for winning his sixth Sprint Cup title weren’t already over entering Sunday’s race, they were definitely over after Sunday. On Lap 240, Johnson simply got loose and spun through the grass in the quad-oval out of ninth, bringing out the third caution. Johnson’s car was not damaged in the spin, but he could only get back to 14th by the finish. He is now 55 points out of the lead and effectively eliminated from contention.

When Joey Logano blew an engine to bring out the fourth yellow, the leaders all pitted with 70 laps to go, outside of the pit window. Most of them, with the exception of Kahne, took two tires. Point leader Carl Edwards, who spent most of the up in the top-5 but never challenged for the lead, beat Stewart out of the pits.

After another quick yellow for debris that saw some of the backmarkers on the lead lap pit, Stewart made a move on the restart to take the lead away from Edwards. On two fresh tires, the class of the field stood out. Stewart, Edwards and Kenseth were able to maintain their positions up front, while the front-running Richard Petty Motorsports duo of Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger dropped back through the field. Kahne was able to race back up to second from eighth by the time the final round of stops began.

Burton inherited the lead after the rest of the leaders pitted, then attempted to steal the race on fuel mileage. Burton was far enough ahead of Stewart and Edwards that if the fuel held out, Burton could have actually won. Unfortunately, the tank ran dry just past the start-finish line with five to go. Stewart passed Burton for the lead on the backstretch and simply had to hold on to claim the win.

In regards to Edwards, Stewart is going to act like they’re not even there for the last two races.

“We’re controlling our own destiny,” Stewart said. “Today is a perfect example of that. We’re worried about what we’re doing, not about what they’re doing. That’s what we intend to do the next two weeks.”

Stewart’s gains in the standings were somewhat because Edwards did exactly what he had to on Sunday. Edwards finished one second behind Stewart in second. He will take a three point advantage to Phoenix.

“Yeah, proud of our guys for turning what looked like was going to be a bad night overall, or a disaster really in the points, into something that was really manageable, something we can move forward with,” Edwards said. “Obviously definitely we wanted to beat Tony tonight and pad that lead a little bit. At the end of the day we can walk out of here with our heads up. Man, we’re just going to hold Tony to it. They’re going to have to run that well to beat us these next two races. I think really it’s going to be a great battle. I’m excited about it.”

Behind Stewart and Edwards was Kasey Kahne in third, best out of the non-Chasers. Kenseth eventually dropped back to a fourth-place finish, while Biffle rounded out the top-5. Jeff Gordon was sixth, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in a very quiet seventh. Martin Truex, Jr. was eighth, while Clint Bowyer and A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top-10.

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