The No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Tony Stewart only led three laps in the FedEx 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sunday, but they were the final three laps, as Stewart drove to his first win and first top-five finish of the season.
"It's been such a tough year," Stewart said. "Hopefully today, we'll start to build that momentum back."
Chevrolet took the top-three spots in the finishing order, with Juan Montoya taking runner-up honors in the No. 42 Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevy, and Jeff Gordon third in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports entry. None of the top-three finishers were mainstays up front for most of the race.
"He was way quicker," Montoya said of Stewart. "I don't understand where he came from. He was not that good all day."
The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch dominated the first half of the 200-lap race, while his JGR teammates -- Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota and Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 -- along with the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. also spent significant amounts of time up front. But both Kenseth and Truex fell victims to blown engines. Kenseth led 29 laps and was running in first when his blew on lap 157. Truex lost his engine later on lap 279.
"Something broke in the engine," Kenseth said. "Man, it's disappointing. Had a great car today." Hamlin's day went south with only 24 laps remaining when he scraped the wall after a right front tire issue and brought out the seventh and final caution of the race. Busch, though, held on to finish fourth.
Johnson took over in the second half of the race, despite starting 24th and going a lap down early. He was among the first to pit when the field first cycled through green-flag pit stops around lap 72 and used his fresher tires to race back onto the lead lap and make his way toward the front. He claimed the lead for the first time on lap 201.
Johnson ran up front through much of the second half of the event until pit strategies began to vary in the last 100 laps when drivers began staying out or taking only two tires for track positions. Johnson was second to Montoya for a restart that followed the last caution of the race that came out with 24 laps remaining. He drove past Montoya on the restart, but was black-flagged by NASCAR for jumping the restart. As a result of the penalty, Johnson wound up with a 17th-place finish.
"I was half-throttle all the front stretch," Johnson said. "At some point, I've got to go."
Montoya led the way near the end until Stewart got by for the lead with three laps to go. Gordon, who had gotten to the front by staying out during a couple of cautions and then catching a break in the form of a yellow flag right before a green-flag stop became necessary, raced Montoya hard for second, but was unable to get the spot.
"We needed something to go our way, and that's something that hasn't happened much this year," Gordon said.
It was a similar strategy that got Stewart to the front to race for the win.
"(Crew chief Steve) Addington's pit strategy gave us an opportunity there at the end," Stewart said.
Finishing fifth through 10th were the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford of Brad Keselowski, the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota of Clint Bowyer, the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford of Joey Logano, the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick, the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota of Mark Martin, and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr.