Stewart Closes the Deal at Martinsville Home Depot Driver Leads 288 Laps to Take First Victory of 2006 Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
Stewart Closes the Deal at Martinsville
Home Depot Driver Leads 288 Laps to Take First Victory of 2006
Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, took control of Sunday's DIRECTV 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway early, and he was still there at the end, earning his first victory of the young season and the 25th of his stellar career.
In a reversal of last October's finish at Martinsville, Stewart took the lead with 27 laps remaining and held off first Jimmie Johnson and then Jeff Gordon to win his second career event at the .526-mile paperclip. His margin of victory was 0.942 seconds over Gordon, and it came in front of Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli, who made a surprise trip to Martinsville for the day.
"I had an awesome car, and being able to hold off the 24 car (Gordon) is what made me happy today," said Stewart said in victory lane. "Jeff is so good here, especially late in the race like that. Even when I saw him go back and forth I thought, 'he's holding something back.' All I wanted to do was get two lengths on him getting into turn one to where I could get through clean, without him right behind me, and then if we could get away a little bit, I could go back to driving my line without having to over drive it getting into the corner. What an awesome way to get the first (2006 victory) done."
On the final restart with three laps to go, Stewart was able to get away from Gordon into turn one and he held the point to the checkered flag. As is his custom, he stopped the car under the flagstand and climbed to the top to celebrate with his fans.
"After we did that at Daytona (Fla.), that was one of those spur-of-the-moment things, but I wish everyone had the opportunity to be up there for something like that," said Stewart. "That is the coolest view to see people, no matter what kind of driver they support, they're still cheering because they know that before you even celebrate with your team, you're celebrating with them."
Stewart had The Home Depot Chevrolet on the point for 288 of the race's 500 laps. Over the past three Martinsville races, Stewart has led 818 of the 1,500 laps. In last year's spring race, Stewart led 247 laps before a wheel came apart 69 laps from the finish and he finished 26th. In October, Gordon took the lead late and Stewart couldn't get back around, finishing second.
After starting third, Stewart raced behind polesitter Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray for the first 33 laps before making an inside move on McMurray to take the point on lap 34. After pitting on lap 172, Stewart gave up the lead to Sterling Marlin, who stayed out to gain track position.
Sunday's victory, which was his sixth on a short-track in Nextel Cup competition, moved Stewart into a tie for 22nd on the all-time winner's list with Jim Paschal and Joe Weatherly.
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - J.J. Yeley and Denny Hamlin - finished 20th and 37th, respectively. Yeley is 22nd in points while Hamlin sits one spot back in 23rd.
Gordon was second, followed by Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, giving Chevrolet a sweep of the top-five finishing positions. Elliott Sadler, Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, McMurray and Scott Riggs rounded out the top-10.