THE CURE FOR WHAT AILS YA Stewart Wins Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta to Collect First Sprint Cup Win of 2010 Tony Stewart is winless no more. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) ...
THE CURE FOR WHAT AILS YA
Stewart Wins Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta to Collect First Sprint Cup Win of 2010
Tony Stewart is winless no more. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) won Sunday night's Emory Healthcare 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway to snap a 31-race victory drought and collect his 38th career win but first of 2010.
Stewart led eight times for a race-high 176 laps in the 325-lap contest to score his first victory since winning last October at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. It was his fifth point-paying Sprint Cup win since joining SHR in 2009 and it was his third Sprint Cup win at Atlanta, as Stewart won at the 1.54-mile oval in March 2002 and October 2006.
"I've never been so happy to win a race in my life. It's been awhile," said Stewart, who has now won a race in each of his 12 Sprint Cup seasons. "I forgot what it was like, it's been so long. I don't know how many races it's been, but it seems like an eternity since we won a race."
That Stewart was the victor at Atlanta was hardly a surprise. He qualified his Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy fifth to notch his best qualifying effort at Atlanta since posting the fifth-quickest time for the March 2001 Sprint Cup race. He picked up the lead on lap 52 and then swapped it four times with Denny Hamlin before the race hit the 100-lap mark.
When Hamlin blew his engine on lap 145 after leading seven times for 74 laps, Carl Edwards carried the flag as Stewart's nearest challenger, leading three times for 32 laps. But it was always Stewart who reasserted his presence at the front.
"I just couldn't keep from spinning the tires," said Stewart, who often restarted in either first or second on the eight restarts of the evening, but would have to carve his way past three to five cars each time he lost spots to his pursuers. "I just made myself not even watch Carl on the bottom on the last two starts. I do that anyway, but it was just a matter of really focusing. It wasn't that I wasn't trying earlier, I just couldn't figure it out. I'm not sure how I figured it out at the end. I'm just glad I did."
After the last restart on lap 308, Stewart finally had his art mastered. He led before the race's final caution period and stayed in the lead afterward, opening up an impressive 1.316-second margin of victory over runner-up Edwards.
"Man, we had an awesome car tonight," Stewart said. "I know the No. 11 (Hamlin) was really good and we had to fight him, but we were pretty good and the No. 99 (Edwards) was good all night too, so we definitely earned this one.
"We had to be the fastest car all night at the beginning of the run. If we got track position and we got anywhere close to clean air, we were able to just take off. Once we got two or three laps in, I didn't have to run as hard as the guys behind me. I was able to take care of the tires and after five more laps we were able to drive away from those guys and open up a huge gap. For a driver, that's a nice benefit to have, because you can get out there and you're making those guys have to chase you down. And there were times where we weren't the fastest car the last half of the run, but we were able to stretch a big enough lead that those guys weren't able to make that deficit up."
In nabbing his first win of 2010, Stewart earned 10 bonus points for the upcoming Chase for the Championship. The two-time Sprint Cup champion clinched his spot in the elite 12-driver Chase via his performance at Atlanta, as he left the penultimate Race to the Chase with an insurmountable 353-point advantage over 13th-place Ryan Newman, Stewart's teammate and the first driver on the outside looking in at the Chase with only one race remaining before the Chase field is set. This marks the sixth time since the Chase debuted in 2004 that Stewart has qualified for the playoff-like title hunt.
"Especially with the Chase a week away now, we need these 10 points and we need this momentum," Stewart said. "This team has been doing an awesome job for the last two-and-a-half or three months and we've been kind of quiet this year. We took off slow, but thank goodness for Office Depot and Old Spice and everybody who's a part of this team -- they've been doing a great job. The pit stops have been good. The cars have been good. With Darian (Grubb, crew chief) and these guys at our shop, it's just been really fun the last couple of months."
Atlanta also marked the second Sprint Cup victory for SHR in 2010, as Newman won in April at Phoenix International Raceway.
Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Reserve Chevrolet Impala for SHR, finished eighth after starting second. It was his sixth top-10 finish at Atlanta and his eighth top-10 finish of 2010.
Finishing third behind Stewart and Edwards was four-time and reigning Sprint Cup Jimmie Johnson, while Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 53 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish.
With round 25 of 36 complete, Stewart picked up two spots to climb to fourth in the Sprint Cup championship standings. He now has 3,302 points and is 283 markers behind series leader Kevin Harvick. Newman gained two positions in the standings and now has 2,949 points and is 117 points back of 12th-place Bowyer, who holds the final spot in the Chase. The top-10 drivers in points are all locked into the Chase.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Sept. 11 Air Guard 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.