Fuel gamble pays off for Stewart with win at Pocono
LONG POND, Pa. – All Tony Stewart could do the final laps at Pocono Raceway was use every trick available to stretch out his fuel and creep toward the finish line.
Like the gamble he made to leave Joe Gibbs Racing and start his own team, the fuel-mileage call was the right one. Stewart matched his win in the All-Star race with his first Cup points victory as a team owner Sunday, coming from the rear of the field in his backup car at Pocono.
“We’re just thankful we could make it,” Stewart said.
He crossed the line on fumes, even as his own Stewart-Haas Racing operation seems to have plenty of fuel.
“It’s easy when you’ve got the tools in place,” Stewart said. “When you’ve got a car like we had today, you know that you’ve got a shot at it. It’s just going to be a long day and it’s going to take a long time to get there.”
Stewart needed time to reach the front of the 500-mile race because of a practice accident that forced him into his backup car and dropped him to the back of the pack.
“I’d hate to think I’ve got to screw up every week to win a race,” Stewart said.
Crew chief Darian Grubb’s late-race strategy worked and Stewart became the first owner/driver to win a points race since Ricky Rudd at Martinsville in 1998.
Stewart made his last pit stop with 41 laps to go and figured he could drive the rest of the way without another break. He took the lead in the No. 14 Chevrolet with 37 laps remaining and roared to a 6-second lead over Carl Edwards that gave him a crucial buffer down the stretch.
Edwards pushed Stewart and whittled the lead down to about 2 seconds with less than 10 laps remaining, and the two-time Cup champion unsure of how much gas he had left in the tank.
“I didn’t know how close we really were,” Stewart said.
With a lead in the points standings and a spot in the Chase for the championship all but assured, Stewart could afford to take a risk.
Edwards was second, followed by David Reutimann and Jeff Gordon. Stewart’s SHR teammate Ryan Newman was fifth.
Edwards, still looking for his first win of 2009, was convinced Stewart would run out of fuel. He was also sure Stewart would need more time to become so dominant and lead the points standings like he is only 14 races into the season.
Edwards was wrong on both counts.
“The things that he set out to accomplish this year were huge. I personally didn’t believe he could get it done,” Edwards said. “I’m extremely impressed with that. I can only imagine how good that feels to get that done.”
The first Cup points race with double-file restarts finished without any confusion. The drivers meeting lasted nearly 30 minutes as final questions were answered on the new restart rules that line up the 43-car field following a yellow.
“I’m sure they’ll refine it and make it better, but I think it worked out pretty good,” Reutimann said.
Stewart stretched his lead over Gordon in the standings to 71 points.
When rain washed out qualifying on Friday, Stewart automatically sat on the pole as the points leader.
Stewart wrecked his car in practice Saturday, then took some of the fastest laps of the day in his backup. He joked that if he knew the backup would run that strong, he would have crashed the first one right away.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a tough second week with crew chief Lance McGrew and was 27th. Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel at the end and finished seventh.
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