Tony Stewart beats Edwards and Johnson in Atlanta
Tony Stewart saved his best restart for last to beat out Carl Edwards to end a 31-race winless drought with a victory in Sunday night’s Emory Healthcare 500 Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Stewart pulled away from Edwards on the final restart with 19 laps to go and was never threatened as he sailed to his first victory since winning at Kansas Speedway last October.
Jimmie Johnson came home third, followed by Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch.
Stewart’s led a total of 176 laps en route to his third victory at Atlanta and the 38th of his career, coming just at the right time to carry momentum into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with one race left to go before the end of the regular season.
“I have never been so happy to win a race in my life, it's been awhile,” said Stewart. “This is a place that's not been good to us. I know the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) was really good and we had to fight him, but we were pretty good and the No. 99 Carl Edwards was good all night too so we definitely earned this one. We had an awesome car tonight.
“I forgot what it was like, it has been so long. It's been, I don't know how many races it's been, but it seems like an eternity since we won a race. Especially with the Chase a week away now, we needed these 10 points and we need this momentum.”
Stewart seemed to have the only car that could stay up front, as he, Edwards, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne traded the lead seven times over the final 75 laps. Johnson was in the mix as well, often as the third car in several three-wide passes for the lead.
After Brad Keselowski’s spin on lap 296, the field came to pit road with Stewart’s crew getting him out first. Stewart, who had struggled on restarts all night, managed to get away clean with Edwards and Johnson closing in.
On lap 304, Kahne and Ryan Newman got together, cutting down Kahne’s left front tire and bringing out the eighth and final caution. Most of the leaders stayed out while Burton and Kyle Busch pitted for fresh rubber.
With Edwards and Johnson looking to pounce at the slightest stumble, Stewart made a perfect restart and quickly left the field behind, cruising to the finish line by 1.316 seconds over Edwards.
“Tony just had such a fast car there at the end, but we’re back,” said Edwards. “We’re doing it. We’re scoring more points than anybody. We’re heading into the chase. I know we don’t look like we did in 2008, but we’re better set to go race for that championship now than we’ve ever been.”
Stewart and Edwards both clinched a spot in the 12-driver Chase field, as did everyone in the top ten in points, despite a bad night by several of the front runners.
After starting out on the pole and leading 74 of the first 140 laps, Denny Hamlin’s engine expired and sent him spinning down the front stretch on lap 143, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish.
Kevin Harvick suffered suspension damage on his Chevy and was forced to the garage, finishing in 33rd.
Clint Bowyer came into Sunday night’s race in the 12th and final qualifying spot for the Chase with a 100-point edge over Jamie McMurray and Mark Martin and desperately needed a good finish to stay ahead of the pack.
Bowyer finished seventh to hold onto the 12th spot while Martin and McMurray both slipped back one position while Ryan Newman jumped two spots to 13th, but still 113 points behind Bowyer who now needs only to finish 28th or better at next weekend’s race at Richmond.
“That is absolutely what we needed,” said Bowyer. “It was a hard fought battle. Not what we wanted, but darn sure what we needed. I don't know where we are at or whatever, or what we are going to have to do, but certainly running out of running out of races, but we are gaining points so that is a good feeling.”
Harvick still holds the points lead by 219 over Jeff Gordon. Kyle Busch is third, followed by Stewart, Edwards, Burton, Johnson, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Hamlin. Greg Biffle hangs onto the 11th spot ahead of Bowyer.
* Denotes Rookie
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