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Stewart holds off Johnson for first Vegas victory

March 11, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Tony Stewart  keeps Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the field at bay at Las Vegas. (Autostock)

LAS VEGAS -- Tony Stewart scratched another race track off the bucket list.

Powering away from Jimmie Johnson after a restart with four laps left in Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the reigning Sprint Cup champion took the checkered flag .461 seconds ahead of Johnson.

* Final Laps: Stewart wins at Las Vegas

The victory was Stewart's first at the 1.5-mile track, leaving only Darlington and Kentucky as active Cup tracks at which he hasn't won. The win was Stewart's 45th, 15th all time, in 467 Cup starts.

"Man, I'm just finally glad to win one here," said Stewart, who had the fastest car in last year's race but squandered his winning chances when he incurred a penalty for dragging an air wrench from his pit stall. "We were so close last year and had a dominant car.

"I'm not sure we had the dominant car [Sunday], but we had an awful fast Chevy. Just glad to finally, finally get one at Vegas."

* Victory Lane: Stewart celebrates at Vegas

Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards came home third through fifth, respectively. Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top 10.

Stewart took two tires during a pit stop under caution on Lap 204 and pulled out to a comfortable lead over McMurray. A caution for debris slowed the field for the fifth time on Lap 228, and Stewart came to the pits for fuel only.

Brad Keselowski and Bowyer remained on the track and led the field to green on Lap 234, but Stewart regained the top spot with a three-wide dive to the inside moments after Keselowski crossed the stripe.

Stewart pulled out to a 1-second lead over Keselowski before Landon Cassill's blown engine caused the sixth caution. As Stewart sped away after the restart on Lap 250, Keselowski's fuel pickup failed, and the driver of the No. 2 Dodge took his car to the garage.

In fact, it was Stewart's prowess on the restarts that proved the difference.

"Every time the caution came out, I'm like, 'Not again,' " Stewart said. "You wonder how many times you're going to give them a chance at it on a restart there, and when they're going to be able to capitalize on us.

"But, that was our strong suit [Sunday]. We were really strong on the restarts. Just proud of the Hendrick engine department; making great steam with it. That was the key to our restarts was the power that we had. We could go without spinning the tires, and we could get a really good lead into Turn 1 and just haul butt down the backstretch."

Johnson agreed that the restarts settled the issue.

"They were awfully strong," Johnson said of Stewart and the No. 14 team. "The last two restarts ... second to the last restart, I just blew it. He got away from me. The next to the last start, I felt like I got a good one. He still cruised away.

"My only chance was to be at his outside through [Turns] 1 and 2. Didn't have that opportunity. He had the lane at that point. I drove my guts out, but just didn't get it done."

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Tony Stewart has won a race each season for 14 years (1999-2012).
• Tony Stewart posted his first Las Vegas victory in 14 races; previous best Vegas finish, second (twice).
• Tony Stewart scored his 15th 1.5-mile win; that ties Jeff Gordon for second all time.
• Tony Stewart has won four of the past six 1.5-mile races.
• Tony Stewart has won six of the past 13 races.
• This is the earliest in the season Tony Stewart has won a race.
• Tony Stewart posted his first top-10 finish in 2012.
• Tony Stewart led three times for 127 laps, including the final 34; he has led in all three races in 2012.
• Tony Stewart has led 482 laps at Las Vegas, most of all drivers.
• Tony Stewart passed Jimmie Johnson for 12th in all-time laps led.
• Three different manufacturers have won the first three races of 2012: Ford (Daytona), Toyota (Phoenix) and Chevrolet (Las Vegas).
• Jimmie Johnson (second) scored his fifth top-two finish at Las Vegas; it's his second consecutive top-five of 2012.
• This is the 13th 1-2 finish for Johnson and Stewart; Johnson has won seven times, Stewart six.
• Greg Biffle (third) tied his best finish at Las Vegas (2008); he has finished third in all three races of 2012.
• Ryan Newman (fourth) posted his third top-five finish at Las Vegas, and second in a row; it's his first top-20 finish this season.
• Carl Edwards (fifth) posted his fourth top-10 finish in eight races at Las Vegas; he has finished in the top 10 in two of the first three races of 2012.
• Paul Menard (seventh) scored his first top-10 in his sixth Las Vegas race; he restarted 17th on Lap 251 after pitting for four tires on Lap 246.
• Trevor Bayne (ninth) scored his second career top-10 finish.
• Timmy Hill finished 42nd in his Cup debut.

* Aumann: Stewart had it right from the restart

Check out all the highlights from Las Vegas: