Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Stewart wins for 1st time in 2011; Harvick, Earnhardt Jr. finish 2nd & 3rd
Tony Stewart claimed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the season Monday when his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet took the checkered flag in the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, the first race in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
We’ve had a rough year, so this is a good way to start it (the Chase) off.
“We’ve had a rough year, so this is a good way to start it (the Chase) off,” Stewart said.
Kevin Harvick finished second in the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“We had really good stops all day long,” Earnhardt, who started the race in the 19th spot, said. “We made some changes there near the end and had one of the fastest cars out there.”
The race was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon, but rain intervened, postponing all 267 laps of the event until Monday. Stewart didn’t mind, though.
“I had a migraine all day (Sunday), so I’m kind of glad we didn’t race,” Stewart said.
Once the race finally took the green flag on Monday, it turned into a fuel mileage run with the sixth and final caution of the race coming out for debris with 55 laps remaining. Stops during that caution put teams right on the edge of their fuel mileage window, with some making it the remainder of the distance and several cars running out of fuel on the final lap.
Front running cars of Chase drivers were among those that ran out of fuel on the last lap. They were the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Jeff Gordon, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch, the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Matt Kenseth, the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson and the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman ,
Kenseth started the race from the pole and held the lead until Busch took only two tires during a competition caution that came out on lap 30 to restart in the top spot. Busch eventually lost the lead to his brother, Kurt Busch in the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge, on lap 41.
Kurt Busch led for a while until he was passed by Carl Edwards in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford on lap 105. Edwards continued to lead the way until Newman beat him off pit road with a two-tire stop during a lap 145 caution for debris.
Johnson also spent a few laps up front until the fifth caution of the race came out with 63 laps to go and Kenseth and Stewart beat him off pit road. The final caution of the race came out eight laps later to set the final stage of the race up as a fuel mileage run to the finish.
The No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, driven by Martin Truex Jr., stayed out during the last caution, as that team thought that none of the other cars would be able to go the rest of the way on fuel from that point. Everyone else pitted during the caution, though, and went into fuel conservation mode for the remainder of the distance. Some made it, but some didn’t.
“I wasn’t ever comfortable (with fuel mileage), but I knew I saved a little under caution,” Harvick said.
Truex headed down pit road for his final stop with 15 laps to go, as everyone else continued to save fuel with no intention of stopping again.
Edwards finished fourth, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge.Race Results and current Championship Points
See also: Winning team Chicagoland press conference and 2nd, 3rd finishers Chicagoland press conference