Stewart happy to take the checkered flag in Chicago

It seems that Happy Hour didn't really agree with Tony Stewart anyway. On Saturday, Stewart and his teammate Deny Hamlin missed the first half of the final practice session while team owner Joe Gibbs sat his drivers down in Hamlin's hauler to ...

It seems that Happy Hour didn't really agree with Tony Stewart anyway.

On Saturday, Stewart and his teammate Deny Hamlin missed the first half of the final practice session while team owner Joe Gibbs sat his drivers down in Hamlin's hauler to clear the air about their run-in last week in Daytona.

Stewart showed on Sunday that he didn't need the practice. He led the final 40 laps, holding off a furious charge by Matt Kenseth to claim the win in the USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Stewart said that he was happy to put last week's incident behind him, and felt that it was blown out of proportion.

"It was a bigger drama with the media than it was with the teams," Stewart said. "We've got a strong group of guys. The good thing about Joe is that he knows how to organize people and how to keep people motivated and keep them working together."

Stewart said that his relationship with Hamlin remains strong.

"I think Denny and I worked better today than we've ever worked," said Stewart, who claimed his second win at Chicagoland. "We were even giving each other signals about where we needed to be on the race track. It's stuff like that that is just going to keep this team getting better and better each week."

Stewart grabbed the lead when he beat everyone off of pit road during a caution on lap 229.

"All of these Home Depot guys are the ones that won us the race," Stewart said. "They got us the track position that we needed. Especially with late cautions like that, being out front and being in clean air was everything. They're the ones that got us in victory lane."

It was Stewart's first win of the season.

"We've been struggling," his crew chief Greg Zipadelli said. "But everyone has stuck together here and done a great job. We're going to some good race tracks for us so hopefully we can carry some momentum."

Kenseth started 10th and was solid throughout the day. He challenged Stewart for the lead on a pair of late race restarts, but didn't have enough to take the lead and finished second.

"I'm not satisfied with second, but we just didn't quite have the car," said Kenseth, who also finished second in yesterday's Busch Series race. "I was pretty good on the restarts. I had my shot the one time to get to Tony and we got pretty close. We ran side-by-side for a lap or two, but going into (turn) three, I thought I was going to lose control and take out both of us. That was my one shot to get in front of him."

Kenseth said that the lead car certainly had the advantage aerodynamically.

"I think if we would have been in front, it would have been hard for him to get back around us," said Kenseth, who also finished second at Chicagoland in 2005. "I just didn't quite have enough today."

Carl Edwards started 25th but came on strong late in the race. He passed Kevin Harvick in the closing laps to take third place and then worked on Kenseth for second after taking the white flag. He finished third.

"We were coming," said Edwards, who picked up his second straight top-five finish. "I had a great race with Matt - that was a lot of fun. I really had a fun time here today."

Harvick, a two-time Chicagoland winner, paced 54 laps during the first half of the race before surrendering the lead for a green flag pit stop on lap 110. He finished fourth despite having trouble with his set-up most of the day.

"We struggled with (the car)," Harvick said. "About halfway through the race, the track swapped tendencies on us. We kept at it and the whole team did a great job. That's what we needed - a good solid day. Mentally, it was a little bit challenging. Even when we were leading, we didn't have the car we need and were struggling a little bit."

Pole-sitter Casey Mears led the first five laps but battled through a loose condition through the first half of the race and then complained about being too tight in the closing laps. He held on to finish fifth.

Kurt Busch had a great rebound after starting the race 43rd. He used a pair of extended green flag runs early in the race to make up some ground and then leaned on his pit crew to grab a couple of extra spots along the way. He finished sixth while championship points leader Jeff Gordon finished ninth.

Jimmie Johnson had a great day ruined when he wrecked with 40 laps to go. Johnson was running second behind Stewart when his right rear tire came apart and sent him heavily into the outside wall.

"I did get a little looser on that run chasing Tony, but when that thing exploded, I thought the drive shaft came out of the car," Johnson said. "It was so violent. It spun me around and into the wall. I haven't hit hard in a while."

The caution gave all of the leaders the chance to come in for tires and to top up with enough fuel to make it to the end.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified fifth and was enjoying a good day until he lost his power steering with 58 laps left in the race. He dropped back through the lead lap cars and finished 19th.

"I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what it was," said Earnhardt, who held on to 12th place in the championship standings. "I've never had the power steering go out on the car before. I didn't know what I was feeling. I did the best I could. We had a good car and I was real proud of my team."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards