'THIS IS MY HOUSE' Stewart Takes Charge Mid-Race and Brings Home Fifth Career Win at Watkins Glen The words came through loud and clear as Tony Stewart celebrated his record-breaking fifth career victory in his typical, workmanlike fashion on...
'THIS IS MY HOUSE'
Stewart Takes Charge Mid-Race and Brings Home Fifth Career Win at Watkins Glen
The words came through loud and clear as Tony Stewart celebrated his record-breaking fifth career victory in his typical, workmanlike fashion on the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course: "This is my house."
Few would argue as the two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and current point leader continues to have a stranglehold on the legendary 2.45-mile, 11-turn circuit nestled in New York's Finger Lakes region, particularly after Monday's rain-postponed Heluva Good! at The Glen, which he led for a race-high 34 of 90 laps en route to his third victory of the season as a driver/owner with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
It was only the latest in Stewart's growing list of road course accomplishments. The driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS has finished first or second in six consecutive races at Watkins Glen -- a total that includes four victories (2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009). And with Stewart's first Sprint Cup win at The Glen in 2001, he became the track's winningest driver with five total victories -- a mark that is unsurpassed in NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One and sports cars.
Stewart started 13th and didn't find the handling on the Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet quite to his liking in the race's opening laps as he navigated the circuit in that same relative position. But major changes during the team's first pit stop on lap 19, where crew chief Darian Grubb called for spring rubbers to be added to the left-rear and right-rear along with a round of wedge on each rear corner of the car, made the difference.
"It was big," said Stewart of the change that allowed him to beat road course specialist Marcos Ambrose across the finish line by a hefty 2.969 seconds to grab the 36th Sprint Cup victory of his career. "We weren't good enough in the beginning to win. We just needed to make some changes to get better. I was the one who asked to go in the opposite direction after final practice yesterday. So Darian and the guys did an awesome job on the pit stop. It was a pretty in-depth change that took a little bit of time, and I think we only lost six spots in the pits. So, to do those changes that they did, the pit crew did an awesome job that put the car back to where it needed to be."
From there, Stewart made relatively short work of getting to the front. By lap 35, he was up to third behind race leader Kyle Busch, and he made a strong move on a lap-46 restart to take the lead from Busch. Stewart held the point for the next 10 laps before pitting for four tires and fuel on lap 56 during a round of green flag pit stops.
Once all the pit stops cycled through, Stewart was back in the lead pack and charging toward the front.
He took the lead for good on another restart just 23 laps from the race's end when Busch, again the leader, opted to take the outside line in NASCAR's new double-file restart format. Stewart powered his way ahead of Busch around the fast, right-hand turn one and never looked back. Ambrose was also able to get by Busch and was in hot pursuit of Stewart over the closing laps, but could get no closer than the 2.969-second margin of victory before the checkered flag flew.
"I was watching (Ambrose)," said Stewart, who in 22 career Sprint Cup starts on road courses has accumulated 11 top-twos and 16 top-10s while leading a total of 302 laps. "There were parts of the track where we were stronger than he was, and there were parts of the track where he was stronger than us. I think we were stronger in the parts of the track that we needed to be in order to hold him off if he got any closer. We've run really, really well the last seven or eight years here."
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army/Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala SS for SHR, finished 21st. Newman started sixth but began experiencing alternator issues on lap 12 which hampered him throughout the remainder of the race.
Stewart remains atop the championship point standings, as his victory expanded his lead to 260 points over second-place Jimmie Johnson. And with a 756-point lead over 13th-place Busch, Stewart needs only to start next weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn to clinch his spot in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship.
Newman maintained his ninth spot in the standings and is 656 points out of first and 100 points ahead of Busch.
Finishing third behind Stewart and Ambrose was Carl Edwards, while Busch and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five. Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, rookie Max Papis, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 13 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 220.5-mile race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Aug. 16 CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 1 p.m.