Tony Stewart wins at Martinsville II, moves to second in points

Stewart-Haas Racing press release

Boo! Stewart Strikes Fear with Win at Martinsville
Office Depot/Mobil 1 Driver Scores Third Win in Last Seven Races, Rises to Second in Points

On the eve of Halloween, Tony Stewart proved to be a very scary figure for those still competing for this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) won Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway to score his third win in the last seven races, which bumped him up to second in points, only eight markers behind series leader Carl Edwards with just three races remaining.

I don’t think we had the best racecar today by any means, but we had the most determined pit crew to get it as good as they could get it.

Tony Stewart

“Carl Edwards had better be really worried,” said Stewart from a champagne-soaked victory lane. “That’s all I’ve got to say. He’s not going to have an easy three weeks.”

Stewart’s words were backed up by his actions, as he led three times for 14 laps and took the lead from five-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on a restart with three laps to go.

“I don’t think anybody has ever passed Jimmie Johnson on the outside, so I guess it was just determination,” said Stewart about his all-out, late-race pass. “To be honest, it’s really not the fact of beating Jimmie as much as it’s just hard to win in this series to begin with. You cherish these opportunities. You make sure that when you have the opportunity, you make the most of it.”

In order to get this opportunity, which turned out to be his third win and 14th top-10 in 26 career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville and his 42nd win in 461 career Sprint Cup races, Stewart had to overcome a lot of adversity, most notably, an unscheduled trip to pit road on lap 415 to replace what he thought was a flat tire.

“I swore I had a left-rear flat,” Stewart said. “We had changed so much stuff during the race that I didn’t think it was flat, but I thought it was going down. We had contact with (Kevin) Harvick and I felt a ‘clunk’ and I didn’t know if it broke something or if we had a flat, but at that part of the race you couldn’t take a chance. But (crew chief) Darian Grubb saved us and got us the great pit strategy there at the end that got us the track position back.”

The unscheduled pit stop dropped Stewart all the way to 20th, yet he still rallied his way to the win in the final 80 laps around the tight, .526-mile bullring.

“I don’t think we had the best racecar today by any means, but we had the most determined pit crew to get it as good as they could get it,” said Stewart. “The first 200 laps, Darian was making changes. We just couldn’t get the car to respond to anything. He made some good changes the whole last half of the race that got us in the ballpark. He had two awesome pit calls with pit strategy that got us track position.

“The first time I screwed up and gave it away thinking I had a flat tire. Then at the end of the day, he got us that track position back with another great call for two tires. That is what truly gave us the shot to have that opportunity at the end of the day.

“For a guy that grew up 22 miles from here, he had an All-Star day today,” said Stewart, referencing Grubb’s Virginia connection, as he grew up in the tiny town of Floyd. “He made the right calls that gave us that opportunity, and kept making changes.

“Today was a fight, for sure. I was pretty mad all day, but I was the only guy who didn’t get in a wreck with somebody, so I was kind of proud of that.”

Stewart, the last driver not named Jimmie Johnson to win a Sprint Cup championship, is in contention to add a third title to the ones he earned in 2002 and 2005.

Victory lane: race winner Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Victory lane: race winner Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

“This is a tough series,” said Stewart, now a 13-year Sprint Cup veteran and a seven-time Chase for the Sprint Cup participant. “It’s been a tough Chase. This is the best Chase field we’ve ever had. You work hard all year to try to be in this position. There were guys that may have had their chances taken away today. So to be in the position that we’re in right now, sitting here knowing that we’re right in the middle of this thing with three weeks to go, it’s obviously a great feeling and great position to be in. We’ve just got to go out and keep doing what we’re doing here.”

All three of Stewart’s victories this season have come during the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which the two-time Sprint Cup champion began seven races ago with back-to-back wins Sept. 19 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., and Sept. 25 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

This was the fourth Sprint Cup victory for SHR in 2011, as Stewart’s teammate, Ryan Newman, won in July at New Hampshire. SHR now has 11 Sprint Cup victories since its inception in 2009.

Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for SHR, battled back for a solid 10th-place finish in the TUMS Fast Relief 500 after getting spun into the SAFER Barrier in turn two late in the race. Newman led twice for 41 laps en route to his 16th top-10 result of the season and his 10th top-10 in 20 career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville.

Stewart finished .170 of a second ahead of runner-up Johnson, while Jeff Gordon, Harvick and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five. Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Edwards and Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 18 caution periods for 108 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.

Stewart and Newman are both in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup and came into Martinsville fourth and 12th, respectively, in the Chase standings. Stewart was 19 points behind Chase leader Edwards while Newman was 88 points out of the top spot. Stewart leaves Martinsville second in points, eight markers behind series leader Edwards. Newman remained 12th in the standings and is now 89 points out of first.

Victory lane: race winner Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Victory lane: race winner Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chase, chevrolet, stewart