Tony Stewart did what he had threatened to do since the beginning of the season. He had parlayed five top-five finishes in the last six races into a second place in the Cup series standings, but victory had eluded the 37-year-old driver nicknamed “Smoke” — until Saturday night.
By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. — The celebration everyone knew was coming arrived Saturday night at Lowe’s Motor Speedway against a background of exploding fireworks.
The real pyrotechnics, however, were reserved for the racetrack.
Tony Stewart passed Matt Kenseth through Turn 2 on Lap 99 of 100 to win the Sprint All-Star Race, his first victory in the annual non-points event and his first as an owner/driver.
Stewart did what he had threatened to do since the beginning of the season. He had parlayed five top-five finishes in the last six races into a second place in the Cup series standings, but victory had eluded the 37-year-old driver nicknamed “Smoke” — until Saturday night.
Stewart, who led only the final two laps, streaked across the finish line .971 seconds ahead of Kenseth and pocketed the winner’s share of $1,022,975.
Kurt Busch ran third, followed by Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Kyle Busch.
“I can’t believe he gave me the bottom,” Tony said of his inside pass for the lead. “I just cannot believe he gave me the bottom. But I’ll take it. Matt is a guy you can trust. We got to second there, got by the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and I thought, ‘All right, we have a shot at this thing.’
“We weren’t that good until the last run. Darian Grubb (crew chief), I mean he made some awesome calls there at the end to get us where I could drive that thing the way I could. Man, it was fast.”
Adjustments during the 10-minute break before the final segment made Kenseth’s car better but not good enough to keep Stewart behind him.
“We were too loose all night, and we were really slow on restarts,” said Kenseth, who led the field to the green flag with five laps remaining after caution for debris in Turn 3 slowed the field for the final time. “For long runs we were pretty good… During the break we had to tighten the car up a lot, which we did — put more air in the tires and did all the things we needed to do for a short run.
“It was actually pretty good for five or six laps, but with all the short runs and cautions (three after the start of the final segment) and getting the body banged in a little bit, it just hurt it, and with three or four (laps) to go, it started getting really tight and wouldn’t turn at all that last lap. And Tony just rolled on by.”
As the cars worked Lap 93 of 100 — the third in the final 10-lap shootout — Ryan Newman’s Chevrolet roared into the mix, pushing Kyle Busch past leader Jeff Gordon on the backstretch. As the cars sped three-wide through Turn 3, however, contact between Gordon’s Chevrolet and Busch’s Toyota sent the No. 24 Chevy spinning through the grass and ultimately into the wall.
“Looks like a race broke out here,” Busch quipped to spotter Jeff Dickerson under the caution that followed.
Since only green-flag laps counted in the final segment, the field restarted with Kyle Busch in the lead with eight laps remaining, but he soon surrendered the top spot to Kenseth.
With a car set up for the short run, Jimmie Johnson led every lap of the first 50-lap segment, opening a lead of more than three seconds before a required green-flag pit stop midway through the segment.
On new tires after the stop, Johnson again pulled away from Kurt Busch and Gordon, only to have those two drivers narrow the advantage to a car length by the end of the run. Johnson held off his pursuers but dropped to fifth for the restart on Lap 51 when Kyle Busch, Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Sam Hornish Jr. took two tires under the competition caution between segments.
A spin during the final segment dropped Johnson to 13th at the finish.
Clean air proved beneficial to Kyle Busch, who led all 20 laps in winning the second segment. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota stayed out between the second and third segments and surrendered the lead to Gordon halfway through the run. With Busch and Kenseth battling for second, Gordon won the third segment going away, leading the final 10 of 20 laps.