Back-to-Back Wins Do the Talking for Stewart
Office Depot/Mobil 1 Driver Inches Closer to Chase Lead with Dominating Victory at Texas
A week ago, Tony Stewart snared a race win from five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson with a dramatic late-race pass at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, then promptly served notice in victory lane to Carl Edwards – the Chase for the Sprint Cup point leader – that he better be worried over the final three races of the season.
With his second-consecutive victory in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, the actions by Stewart and his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 team spoke even louder than his words at Martinsville.
We gained more than we needed to gain on the average for the week, so we’re doing good.
Stewart left no doubt about this one, leading seven times for a race-high 173 laps around the 1.5-mile oval en route to his fourth victory through the first eight Chase races of 2011. His average speed of 152.705 mph made for the fastest Sprint Cup race in Texas Motor Speedway history, and it moved Stewart to within three points of leader Edwards in the championship with just two races remaining.
“I don’t think we have to say anything, I think our performance today spoke for itself,” said Stewart, who crossed the finish line 1.092 seconds ahead of the second-place-finishing Edwards in scoring his second career victory in 20 starts at Texas, his fourth victory of 2011, and his 43rd victory in 462 career Sprint Cup races. “He (Edwards) knows already, trust me. We had a great Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy today. It was pretty balanced yesterday (in final practice). We just could not put that big lap up, up front. The big key for us was hanging on for the first 10 laps of a run and it seemed like we could start pulling away after that. Carl kept us honest today, but we did everything we could do. We got all the bonus points we could get and got the win. We gained more than we needed to gain on the average for the week, so we’re doing good.”
Stewart is now just one victory shy of tying 1988 Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott for 15th on the series’ all-time win list.
All four of Stewart’s victories this season have come during the Chase, which the two-time Sprint Cup champion began eight races ago with back-to-back wins Sept. 9 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., and Sept. 25 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Stewart’s consecutive victories at Martinsville and Texas mark the ninth time in his career that he’s notched back-to-back victories. Prior to his consecutive wins at Chicagoland and New Hampshire to start this year’s Chase, the last time Stewart won consecutive races came in July 2007 when he won back-to-back events at Chicagoland and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Today’s victory also marks the third time in Stewart’s 13-year career that he won consecutive races twice in the same year. He also accomplished the feat in 2000 and 2005, and he has won at least four races in a season five times in his career (2000, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2011).
Stewart started fifth in today’s third-to-last round of the 10-race Chase and hovered at or near the front throughout the entire 334-lap event, taking the lead briefly for the first time from laps 43 to 45, and for the second time on lap 117 as crew chief Darian Grubb and the Office Depot/Mobil 1 crew worked to fine-tune the handling of Stewart-Haas Racing’s (SHR) No. 14 Chevrolet.
From there, Stewart spent lengthy chunks of time in the race lead, moving into the top spot for a 40-lap stretch on lap 119, for a 41-lap stretch on lap 162, and a 57-lap stretch on lap 207.
A pivotal point in the race came on a lap-274 restart, when Stewart took the green flag outside the race-leading Edwards but powered his way past the No. 99 Ford and back into the lead for another 26 laps until the caution flag flew, sending him and Edwards back to the pits for what turned out to be a final stop for four tires and fuel while several competitors opted to gamble on fuel mileage and stay on the track.
A magnificent pit stop by the Office Depot/Mobil 1 crew got Stewart out ahead of Edwards, and Stewart was able to hold his advantage over the Chase leader while competitors ahead of them peeled off one-by-one in the closing laps to top off their fuel tanks. Stewart inherited the lead for good with just five laps remaining when Jeff Burton pitted for fuel.
“Darian did an awesome job. It’s so hard to do what he does to the car, and he has made the right calls the whole Chase,” Stewart said. “It was like we told DJ (Dale Jarrett, ESPN TV analyst) on that last restart, if I could get the restart on him (Edwards) and get ahead of him, I thought we could stay there. That was the difference, and the guys had an awesome pit stop at the end. If they would not have had that pit stop, we would not be here (in victory lane).”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Carrier Classic Chevrolet Impala for SHR, battled back for a solid 16th-place finish after having to make an unscheduled green-flag pit stop after he felt a vibration following his first pit stop of the day.
Kasey Kahne finished third, while Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and A.J. Allmendinger comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 21 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 334-lap race.
Stewart and Newman are both in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup and came into Texas second and 12th, respectively, in the Chase standings. Stewart was eight points behind Edwards while Newman was 89 points out of the top spot. Stewart leaves Texas still second in points, but is now just three markers behind Edwards. Newman remained 12th in the standings and is now 103 points out of first.