News & Media

Stewart starts Chase with his first win of season

September 19, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

JOLIET, Ill. -- 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.

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


Saving fuel during a 50-lap green-flag run to the finish, Stewart, who started 26th, crossed the stripe .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 flagstand."

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."


• This is Tony Stewart's 40th victory in his 455th start. His 40 wins ties Mark Martin for 16th all-time.
• This is Tony Stewart's first victory of 2011 -- the 16th driver to win a race this season.
• Tony Stewart now has a victory in 13th consecutive seasons.
• Tony Stewart earned his third victory at Chicagoland in his 11th start, leading all drivers.
• This is Tony Stewart's seventh Chase victory.
• Stewart-Haas Racing earned its ninth victory, second victory in 2011 and first at Chicagoland.
• Kevin Harvick (second) scored his sixth top-five at Chicagoland in 11 starts.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr (third) earned his best finish since second at Kansas, 14 races ago.
• Carl Edwards (fourth) notched his 18th top-10 finish this season, tied with Jimmie Johnson for the most.
• Brad Keselowski (fifth) has five top-five finishes in the past seven races. His average finish in the past eight races is 4.8.
• Clint Bowyer (seventh) earned his second top-10 finish in the past 11 races. He was the only non-Chase driver in top eight. Bowyer has top-10 finishes in five of his six Chicago races.
• Ryan Newman (eighth) earned his seventh top-10 in the past 10 races. This is Newman's fourth top-10 at Chicago in the past five races.
• Jimmie Johnson (10th) earned his 55th career top-10 finish in 71 Chase races (77 percent). This is his eighth top-10 in 10 Chicago races but he is still winless.

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