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Tony Stewart wins rain-delayed Chicagoland race

NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase begins
Monday, September 19, 2011

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Tony Stewart celebrates
Getty Images for NASCAR
Winless no more.  Poor-mouthing Tony Stewart, who four days ago minimized his chances for a third Sprint Cup title, outlasted the field in Monday's rain-delayed Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Stewart, who started 26th, crossed the stripe 0.941 seconds ahead of hard-charging Kevin Harvick to win his first race of the season and the 40th of his career, tying him with Mark Martin for 16th on the all-time list.

This is the same Stewart who had said at Thursday's Chase media day in Chicago that there were seven drivers who could win the Chase -- and he wasn't one of them.

"Counting Tony Stewart out -- that's pretty funny that he counts himself out," said Harvick, who took the Chase lead by seven points over second-place Stewart. "He's won a ton of races to start off the Chase like they did today.

"[He has] the notes and teammates and things to lean on at Hendrick Motorsports and Ryan [Newman] and all the stuff they have to lean on, there's no way they're going to be totally out to lunch. So I think that's yet to be seen. So he ran strong all day and drove from the back to the front and led the race and won the race.

"So he shouldn't count himself out -- that's pretty funny."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who saved enough fuel to get to the checkered flag, came home third, after other contenders -- five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson among them -- ran out of gas ahead of him.

Carl Edwards ran fourth, followed by Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch, as drivers in the Chase claimed the top six positions. Johnson finished 10th after NASCAR demoted pole-sitter Matt Kenseth -- also out of gas -- to 21st for getting a push from J.J. Yeley through Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap.

NASCAR rules prohibit one car from assisting another on the last lap.

Last year, in the first Chase race at New Hampshire, Stewart gambled on fuel mileage -- and lost. He finished 24th in that race, severely damaging his title chances. Stewart said he wasn't thinking about New Hampshire in the closing laps -- just about the interval between his No. 14 Chevrolet and the cars that were chasing him.

"You hate to have to play the fuel-mileage game, but that's just the way the caution came out," Stewart said. "We came in and got fuel [on Lap 214 of 267] and [crew chief] Darian [Grubb] said we had to save a lap's worth of fuel, but we had a whole run to do it.

"I felt like we had saved enough to get us to the end, but we came off Turn 2 after we got the checkered, and the fuel pressure was down to two pounds, and it stayed there until just shortly after we picked up the checkered flag at the flag stand."

Given his position entering the Chase -- 12 points behind Kyle Busch and Harvick -- Stewart felt he could take the chance on fuel.

"We didn't have anything to lose," he said. "Where we're at in the Chase right now, we had to press."

Kenseth took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 228, 10 laps after a restart forced by the sixth caution of the race, for debris. Stewart passed Kenseth for the top spot through Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 238, with Kenseth needing to save fuel and not contesting the position.

Though Stewart briefly surrendered the lead to Truex in the closing laps, the No. 14 team wasn't worried, because Truex couldn't go the distance and had to pit for fuel. Truex finished 18th.

The first Chase race worked out brilliantly for Earnhardt, who ran out of fuel off Turn 4 on the final lap. Earnhardt was mired in traffic for much of the afternoon but worked his way into the top 10 during the final fuel run -- and then let attrition take its course.

"I just knew we were going to get a good finish if we didn't run out of fuel," Earnhardt said. "I was happy where we were. I thought we had really improved throughout the day. And, yeah, it felt a lot similar to how we ran earlier in the year where we would ... use strategy to improve our finishing position."

The second race of the Chase is Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Results

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 26 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1 47/4 267 Running
2 30 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Budweiser 42/0 267 Running
3 19 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Amp Energy / National Guard 41/0 267 Running
4 5 99 Carl Edwards Ford Aflac 41/1 267 Running
5 6 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 40/1 267 Running
6 3 22 Kurt Busch Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 40/2 267 Running
7 21 33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet Cheerios / Hamburger Helper 37/0 267 Running
8 4 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet U.S. Army Medicine 37/1 267 Running
9 25 5 Mark Martin Chevrolet GoDaddy.com 35/0 267 Running
10 12 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's / Kobalt Tools 35/1 267 Running
11 15 6 David Ragan Ford UPS "We Love Logistics" 33/0 267 Running
12 24 4 Kasey Kahne Toyota Red Bull 32/0 267 Running
13 8 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 31/0 267 Running
14 16 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 30/0 267 Running
15 22 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 29/0 267 Running
16 10 20 Joey Logano Toyota The Home Depot 28/0 267 Running
17 13 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row Companies 27/0 267 Running
18 20 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 27/1 267 Running
19 17 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Dewalt 25/0 267 Running
20 2 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Zecol / Menards 24/0 267 Running
21 1 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Crown Royal 24/1 266 Running
22 9 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Wrigley's Doublemint 23/1 266 Running
23 28 21 Trevor Bayne Ford Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center 0 266 Running
24 23 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet DuPont 20/0 265 Running
25 42 32 Mike Bliss Ford Street King 0 265 Running
26 7 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M Filtrete 18/0 265 Running
27 18 43 A.J. Allmendinger Ford Best Buy 17/0 265 Running
28 40 71 Andy Lally * Ford Interstate Moving Services 16/0 265 Running
29 41 13 Casey Mears Toyota GEICO 15/0 265 Running
30 31 51 Landon Cassill Chevrolet Thank A Teacher Today / Security Benefit 0 264 Running
31 27 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Ground 13/0 264 Running
32 29 00 David Reutimann Toyota Tums 12/0 263 Running
33 39 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet Big Red 11/0 263 Running
34 32 38 J.J. Yeley Ford Long John Silver's 11/1 263 Running
35 35 46 Scott Speed Ford Red Line Oil / International Trucks 0 260 Running
36 38 34 David Gilliland Ford Taco Bell 8/0 259 Running
37 11 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Kleenex Cool Touch / Clorox 7/0 236 Running
38 14 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet McDonald's 6/0 163 Engine
39 37 7 Robby Gordon Dodge Speed Energy / Mapei 5/0 77 Vibration
40 36 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota NEMCO Motorsports 0 45 Electrical
41 34 30 David Stremme Chevrolet Inception Motorsports 3/0 44 Vibration
42 43 37 Josh Wise Ford Bradley University 0 41 Brakes
43 33 66 Michael McDowell Toyota James Fund 1/0 25 Brakes

* Denotes Rookie

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