|A happy Tony Stewart|
A penalty to Jimmie Johnson was all Tony Stewart needed to break out of a four-month slump.
After Johnson was assessed a drive-through penalty for jumping the final restart — a sanction Johnson protested vehemently — Stewart passed Juan Pablo Montoya on Lap 398 of 400 to win Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.
The victory was the first of the season and third at Dover for Stewart, who has notched 42 of his 48 career wins after May 31. Stewart finished 0.788 seconds ahead of Montoya, who matched his career-best NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finish on an oval track.
Jeff Gordon came home third, followed by Kyle Busch and reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski. Johnson finished 17th, the first car one lap down, smarting from a penalty he felt was unjustified.
But Keselowski’s Ford failed the height-stick test in post-race inspection (too low in the front), with penalties expected after NASCAR’s completion meeting during the coming week.
Stewart, whose struggles this year have been well-documented, was happy to take the win, no matter how it came his way. Coming on the heels of a seventh-place run last week at Charlotte, a 1.5-mile downforce track, Stewart was happy to point out the progress his team is making.
“It’s definitely momentum," Stewart said. “We got two weeks of momentum under our belt now at two totally different race tracks. That is big. Momentum is huge in this sport. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. We won’t sit… I guarantee you none of these guys behind you (his crew) will tell you we are exactly where we want to be right now. It’s a good reward for how hard they have been working to get that first win of the year.
“Now it’s trying to be more consistent and stay in the top-10 more and make our program better. It’s proof that no matter how bad it’s been this year, none of these guys have quit and given up. Just really proud of the effort this weekend; I think we probably made more gains from Friday to right now than any team in the garage did. I’m really proud of that fact."
If Stewart was elated after the race, Johnson was still fuming.
“I totally disagree with the call, but it is what it is, and we’ll just come back and try to win in the fall," he said.
Johnson knew he had beaten Montoya to the start/finish line, not knowing whether something was wrong with Montoya’s car, and said he tried to give the position back to the Colombian driver.
“I ran half-throttle for the first half a lap, waiting for him, and then at some point you’ve got to go, and you’ve got to race, and that’s when I got back in the gas and took off," he explained. “I was hoping they would see that I was trying to give him the spot back."
NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton, however, described the penalty as cut-and-dry.
“That was an easy call — a very easy call," Pemberton said. “He beat the 42 even out of the (restart) box, from what we could see on the film. We give 'em an opportunity to give it back."
Until the decisive penalty, it looked for all the world as if Johnson would claim a record eighth victory at the Monster Mile.
Johnson started 24th and, in the early stages of the race, had difficulty moving forward through traffic. In fact, the No. 48 Chevrolet SS went a lap down when Kyle Busch passed him on Lap 70.
But Johnson came to pit road early, on Lap 71, and used the extra time on new tires to regain the lost lap by the time NASCAR called an opportune caution for debris in Turn 2 on Lap 80. From that point on, it was a charge to the front by the five-time champion.
Johnson had worked his way up to sixth before a caution for debris on the backstretch slowed the field on Lap 160, moments after a blown engine eliminated what was arguably the strongest car in the race, Matt Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota.
After a restart on Lap 165, Johnson again moved forward, finally taking the lead for the first time on Lap 206, passing Kyle Busch to the inside through Turns 1 and 2.
Just as a Johnson victory was looking academic, however, Denny Hamlin's right front tire blew in Turn 1 and sent his No. 11 Toyota hard into the outside wall, bringing out the seventh caution of the race. Montoya took two tires when the lead-lap cars came to pit road and narrowly beat Johnson to the exit.
That turned the race inside-out, as NASCAR black-flagged Johnson for beating Montoya to the start/finish line on the restart on Lap 382. Montoya held off Stewart for 16 laps but wore out his tires in the process and had to surrender the top spot.
“In one of the runs under green, we decided to make a couple of big changes on the car, and the car just took off—came to life," Montoya said. “It came to life at the right time. It’s a shame there at the end that it was way too loose. I just couldn’t hold Tony off."
Notes: Despite running 17th, Johnson holds a 30-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards (14th Sunday) in the series standings… Kyle Busch, who has two victories this season, moved back into 10th place after falling out of the top 10 last week at Charlotte… Hamlin’s crash put a serious crimp in his effort to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup despite missing four races with a back injury. Hamlin dropped two spots to 26th in the standings and is 74 points behind Ryan Newman in 20th, the position he needs to reach to be eligible for a Chase wild card.
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 CODE 3 ASSOCIATES/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET SS – WINNER IT’S DOVER YOU ARE IN VICTORY LANE CONGRATULATIONS:
“If somebody would have told me it was going to be that way yesterday I would have told them they were crazy. This thing was not a car that could win the race. Just great pit strategy at the end. We had a car that was solid we just never got track position to get in clean air. It felt a lot better up front. Steve Addington (crew chief) made a great call there that last caution and gave us the opportunity to race for it up there. It didn’t seem like the guys that took four tires had a huge advantage taking off there. Just really proud of everybody on this Code 3 Associates Chevy. Code 3 had done such an awesome job of getting everybody in Oklahoma back on their feet. They have saved over 150 animals and helped reunite 40 pets with their owners. Pretty cool what they do right now. I couldn’t think of a better week to celebrate what Code 3 Associates does and their hard work. Between them and Chevy and Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1 all the Hendrick engine and chassis department everybody has been helpful. Especially on the Hendrick side nobody knows how much they have tried to help out. It’s greatly appreciated, but our guys at our shop have been digging. None of these guys get down. We have been down but they haven’t gotten down. That is what carries you to days like today at the end of the day."
TELL US ABOUT THE BATTLE WITH JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:
“When we noticed we were catching him we kind of got going on the bottom there and realizing we were making up even more time when we could stay right on the bottom. He was smart he was watching and he picked up on that and moved down. I couldn’t really make any ground there any more so I had to try something. Jeff (Gordon) was coming behind us there. I was willing to risk running third to battle for the win instead. If it didn’t work out and I dropped back a spot it was worth it. It’s fun. It’s fun when you can battle guys like Juan Montoya and Jeff Gordon like that. That is two pretty cool names to be racing for the win with."
WHAT DOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS DO FOR A TEAM THAT IS TRYING TO GET THEIR FOOTING BACK UNDER THEM NOW?
“It’s definitely momentum. We got two weeks of momentum under our belt now at two totally different race tracks. That is big. Momentum is huge in this sport. We still got a lot of work to do. We won’t sit… I guarantee you none of these guys behind you will tell you we are exactly where we want to be right now. It’s a good reward for how hard they have been working to get that first win of the year. Now it’s trying to be more consistent and stay in the top-10 more and make our program better. It’s proof that no matter how bad it’s been this year none of these guys have quit and given up. Just really proud of the effort this weekend; I think we probably made more gains from Friday to right now than any team in the garage did. I’m really proud of that fact."
YOU TOLD YOUR GUYS NOT TO GIVE UP. WE WILL FIGURE THIS THING OUT. WITH THE CHALLENGES THIS YEAR, DOES IT MAKE THIS WIN EVEN MORE MEMORABLE FOR YOU AND THIS ENTIRE ORGANIZATION?
“Oh gosh, yes. It’s been such a tough year. And we had, not new partners to us at Stewart-Haas Racing, but new partners on the No. 14 car with Code 3 Associates this week. And with all the tragedies in Oklahoma, to be able to showcase a great partner like that that’s done so much to help so many people. It’s them and Mobil 1 and Bass Pro Shops, Rush Truck Centers, Coca-Cola, and Sprint, and most of all; it’s all of our fans out there. We’ve let them down for a long time. Hopefully today we’ll be starting on building that momentum back up now."
YOU HAVEN’T WON HERE AT DOVER SINCE YOU SWEPT BOTH RACES IN 2000:
“Yeah, it’s been a while. Honestly, we tested here, which I thought would be an advantage coming here. And yesterday we took two steps backwards it seemed like, and yesterday it didn’t seem like we were much better. But I’m so proud of all of our guys and our engineers. They worked hard late into the night last night and never gave up. They kept working today. Addington’s pit strategy gave us the opportunity there at the end. It’s pretty cool. Not many times you get to outrace Juan Montoya. He figured out where I had been gaining ground and he made the adjustment and got going there and so we had to move around again, so found a little something on the top there. Everybody at Chevrolet has been helping us doing everything they can to help out and most of all, Rick Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and the engine department and the chassis department and Doug Duchardt. Just everybody has dug deep to help us to get back to where we are today."
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 42 ENERGIZER CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED SECOND DESCRIBE THE CLOSING LAPS WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE?
“Our car was just a handful at the end. We had a really quick car all day. This Energizer Chevy everybody did a really good job. I was just too loose. I didn’t have enough drive off the corner. I was too loose in. It was hard I was trying to do the best I could. The more you try and you stop using the tires the worse it is. Then if you back off them it’s as bad. It’s one of those deals where we were just not quick enough."
HOW MUCH DID THE TRACK CHANGE THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
“It changed a ton. We kept tightening the car up and it kept getting looser. We kept making it tighter and tighter. We really did two tires on mistake there. He (Chris Heroy, crew chief) said two and then I guess when I was coming down I was on the radio and he said four, never heard him and left at two. It actually worked out pretty well."
A GREAT BATTLE! TELL US ABOUT THE END WITH TONY STEWART:
“He was way quicker. I don’t understand where he came from. He wasn’t that good all day, and he was good when it mattered. Our car, on that last run, it was a little tight the first few laps. I thought we were going to be good and then we started losing the rear really quick and never had any speed. It seems like you normally have like 10 or 15 laps where you can really mash the gas. I think our left tires were way too old. But everybody on the Energizer car this weekend did a really good job. I think that win is coming. It’s just good to be running this good every week."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AARP CREDIT CARDS FROM CHASE CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED THIRD TELL US ABOUT YOUR DAY:
“I thought we had a really good race car. We just never could get the track position. We kept adjusting on it. We weren’t going anywhere. We were making changes to the car, some were helping, some weren’t, but we still weren’t really making any ground. We got fortunate we kind of stayed out under one green flag run; had pretty fresh tires then we were able to stay out on that one. Great call, great pit stops, really proud to have Chase credit cards services, AARP reward card on this Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. It was a fun day there at the end. We were struggling and fighting hard all day, but came out with a good finish."
WERE YOU WONDERING IF THE CAUTION GODS WOULD SMILE ON YOU AT THE END?
“Yeah, we needed some things to go our way and that’s something that’s been hit or miss for us this year. Finally things went our way. We made a call to stay out, which obviously paid off and gave us some good track position. Our car drove pretty good up front there. And then we needed a caution. You hate to see what happened to Denny (Hamlin), I think it was Denny, happen, but it certainly paid off for us. So, then we had a car there with four tires that really took off. They pumped the air pressure up on them and it took off. I was able to get by Kyle (Busch), but it started getting pretty loose on me as I caught those other two and all I could do was watch at that point. So, we almost got Montoya on the last lap, but it almost cost us another position too, so it was a great top-three. Don’t forget to get your AARP Rewards Card from Chase. It was pretty cool having a unique paint scheme this week with a local company here from Wilmington that supports such a great cause with Drive to End Hunger."
|2||Juan Pablo Montoya||42||Chevrolet||14||400||19||Running|
|10||Dale Earnhardt Jr||88||Chevrolet||12||400||0||Running|
|13||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||17||Ford||23||400||0||Running|
|38||Martin Truex Jr||56||Toyota||2||279||2||Engine|
|41||Mike Bliss||19||Toyota||32||59||0||Rear Gear|