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Keeping Pace

Tony Stewart Wins Pocono 500

What was amazing was that Stewart could even manage a celebration at all, after using every trick in the book — including shutting down his engine entering Turn 1 at the 2.5-mile triangular track — to save enough fuel to win the Pocono 500.

By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

LONG POND, Pa. (June 7, 2009) — Perhaps more amazing than Tony Stewart’s first victory as an owner/driver was his victory celebration Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Actually, what was amazing was that Stewart could even manage a celebration at all, after using every trick in the book — including shutting down his engine entering Turn 1 at the 2.5-mile triangular track — to save enough fuel to win the Pocono 500.
The win was Stewart’s 34th in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series and his first since acquiring an ownership interest in Stewart-Haas Racing before the 2009 season. This is the first Cup win by an owner/driver since Ricky Rudd won at Martinsville on Sept. 27, 1998.

“He’s doing a damn burnout!” Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, said in amazement after Stewart began his victory donuts on the frontstretch.

Holding down his speed to the minimum needed to stay ahead of runner-up Carl Edwards, who also was saving fuel, Stewart crossed the finish line 2.004 seconds ahead of the No. 99 Ford. David Reutimann ran third, followed by Gordon, who benefitted from a fuel-mileage play by Letarte, and Ryan Newman.

Stewart, who increased his lead in the Cup standings to 71 points over Gordon, lost more than four seconds of a 6.8-second lead over Edwards in the final 10 laps.

“Breathe easy, boys, we’re gonna make it,” Stewart radioed to his crew as he rolled through the final corner. “God, I’m proud of you guys. You make me look like a genius in here.”

“We didn’t tell you how to save gas,” crew chief Darian Grubb retorted.

Stewart did that on his own, and he did so masterfully. He took the No. 14 car number to Victory Lane in a Cup race for the first time since Dec. 8, 1968, in Montgomery, Ala., when Bobby Allison beat Richard Petty to the finish line by four feet. Not that the No. 14 has run all of them, but the Pocono 500 was the 1,329th Cup race since Allison’s win.

Stewart competed for a decade and won 33 races and two championships at Joe Gibbs Racing, but Sunday’s victory had special significance.

“I’ve always had a great group of people to work with at Gibbs, but it’s just a little different when it’s your own, you know, when you’re the one that’s got to be accountable for (it),” Stewart said.

Edwards, who won at Pocono last August by conserving fuel, lost the race off pit road to Stewart on the final stop for both cars, under a caution for debris on Lap 159 that was extended to seven laps when a light rain shower crossed the track.

“I didn’t think Tony could save that much fuel, but he did a really good job,” said Edwards, who led a race-high 103 of 200 laps. “Our car was getting great fuel mileage all day, and (I’m) just really proud of my guys. We were great on pit road.

“Tony beat us off of pit road on that last stop by about three quarters of a car length or something, and that’s primarily because of his pit stall (Stewart had pit stall No. 1, closest to the exit from pit road).”

Edwards gained five positions in the standings to sixth, 281 point behind Stewart.

Notes: Because of a crash in Saturday’s practice, Stewart was driving a backup car and was forced to begin the race last. … There were no major issues with NASCAR’s new double-file restart rule. Given that there were only five cautions in the race, the new format played a minor role. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran 27th in his second race with crew chief Lance McGrew. He fell two spots to 20th in the Cup standings. … A water pump failure dropped Kurt Busch to 37th at the finish, 18 laps down and cost him a position in the standings. He’s now fifth, 224 points behind Stewart. … Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel on the final lap but coasted home in seventh place to remain third in points. … Denny Hamlin’s Toyota stopped running on the first lap because of a fuel-system issue and again on Lap 13 to cause the first two cautions of the race. Hamlin lost 22 laps during repairs and finished 38th, dropping five positions to 12th in the standings.

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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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