Tony Stewart didn’t have time for a debate. He had one last chance to grab the win at Kansas Speedway, and it came down to one critical decision.
Two tires, or four?
The two-time series champion asked for two on the final pit stop Sunday, and crew chief Darian Grubb immediately agreed with the strategy. The rapid thinking got Stewart the race lead, and he held on over the final 26 laps for his fourth win of the season.
“He asked me what I thought, I kind of put my vote in, and he said it was exactly what he was thinking,” Stewart said. “It made me feel good that we both agreed on the same thing that quick. It was like, to both of us, it wasn’t even an option. We pretty much knew what we both needed.”
What he needed was a win.
After a rocky start to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Stewart found himself in danger of allowing Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson to pull the title out of his reach in just the third of 10 races.
Stewart went into the race fifth in the standings, 106 points behind leader Martin, and in a slump of five of six finishes outside the top 10.
Grubb knew they needed to turn it up, and soon, to stay in title contention.
“We knew going into the Chase it was a must-win situation,” Grubb said. “You’re going to have to win races against these competitors. You have to go in with the mind-set you have to win races.”
The victory at Kansas moved Stewart up one spot in the standings to fourth, and his deficit was cut from 106 points to 67 behind Martin.
Stewart then raced through his celebration to fly off to Iowa, to compete with teammate Ryan Newman in the Knoxville Dirt Late Model Nationals, which were rained out Saturday night.
“As soon as I get done with this stimulating conversation that we’re having here … then I’m going to get to Knoxville as quickly as I can,” he said in his post-race news conference. “That’s my goal, to get out of here soon. Just a hint.”
Martin, the pole-sitter, finished seventh and maintained his lead in the standings. He’s up 18 points over three-time defending series champion Johnson, who finished ninth after a bad pit call put him in traffic that he couldn’t overcome.
Biffle was third, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Martin.
David Reutimann was the only non-Chase driver in the top 11 with an eighth-place finish and was followed by Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch.
Rain Sunday forced NHRA officials to postpone the O’Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals eliminations until today.
Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle) topped qualifying at Memphis Motorsports Park in Millington, Tenn.