Tony Stewart has looked like a man playing against boys lately and he toyed with the field again on Sunday, claiming his fifth win of the season in the Sirius Satellite Radio at The Glen. Tony Stewart. Photo by Eric Gilbert. Stewart,...
Tony Stewart has looked like a man playing against boys lately and he toyed with the field again on Sunday, claiming his fifth win of the season in the Sirius Satellite Radio at The Glen.
"We had an absolutely flawless day today," Stewart said after the race. "I was just running a pace that was comfortable."
Stewart jumped out to a three second lead on the field within the first 10 laps. He led the first 22 laps before coming in for a green flag stop for fuel and tires. Stewart quickly took the lead back after the restart for the second caution and proceeded to separate himself from the field again.
He dropped back to sixth when he made a scheduled pit stop with 34 laps to go, but took the lead back from Ryan Newman three laps later and continued to dominate the event. He held off Robby Gordon in the final restart with two laps to go.
"On the restarts, we knew with Robby behind us that we needed to get a good jump," Stewart said. "We just had to keep protecting ourselves on the restarts. They were playing the game and I was playing the game as the leader."
Gordon posted the second best time in qualifying on Friday before the session was washed out. The field was set by owner's points, forcing Gordon to start 37th. Undaunted, Gordon rapidly made his way to the front of the field. He moved to 23rd in the first five laps, to 15th after 15 laps and assumed the lead on lap 25. Gordon -- who won at Watkins Glen in 2003 -- gave up the lead as pit stops cycled through, but was pressing into the top-5 in the closing laps.
Gordon passed Boris Said for second on a restart with 15 laps to go, but couldn't close the gap that Stewart built during the final laps.
"Obviously we're happy but at the same time disappointed," admitted Gordon, who claimed his best finish of the season. "When it rained yesterday, it put us at a huge deficit. Tony did a hell of a job - those guys are tough to beat."
After getting together with P.J. Jones in the inner loop on lap 10 to bring out the first caution of the day, Said came in for work on his #36 Chevy and restarted at the back of the field. He pushed his way to the front and stayed out under the second caution, putting him into the top-10. He finished third -- his best ever Nextel Cup finish.
"For a while I thought I could finish second behind Tony," Said admitted after exiting his race car. "Robby got a good run on me on that restart and I couldn't hold him off. I love coming to Watkins Glen, but I've always had back luck here -- hopefully now it's gone. I didn't win, but for me it's like a win coming from the back."
Scott Pruett finished fourth in the #40 Dodge. Pruett was subbing for Sterling Marlin, who left Watkins Glen on Thursday to be with his father, former NASCAR racer Clifton "Coo Coo" Marlin, who passed away this morning.
Pruett was forced to start at the back of the field, but worked his way to 12th by lap 34. He was running seventh at the midway point of the race.
"I'm glad we could do him proud today," said Pruett, who attempted to qualify the #39 car on Friday but missed the cut when qualifying was rained out. "It was tough -- we were in a mad dash just getting my seat in there to start the race. We had to run hard, but we had to run smart. We just kept digging and all the guys in the pits made good calls. We just did the right thing at the right time."
Johnson maintained second place in the championship standings with a fifth place finish.
"That was a great performance for us today," said Johnson, who posted his second top-10 finish in four races at Watkins Glen. "We had some trouble in practice. From the first lap (today), the car was right on the money. This is really what we needed after last weekend."
Greg Biffle started third and was running with the leaders before having to serve a penalty for "non-compliant fueling" during a yellow flag stop on lap 26. The catch can man for the #16 team was flagged for working on the wrong side of the car. Biffle had to restart at the end of the longest line, so they came back in to top up the fuel before the restart.
"The catch can man has to have his hand on the can at all times," said Biffle's crew chief Doug Richert. "When we tried to make the left side adjustments, he left his post."
Biffle ran into transmission problems later in the race and brought the caution out with 31 laps to go.
"I think I got something jammed in the shift linkage," said Biffle, who held onto third in the point standings despite finishing 38th. "I had trouble shifting from third to fourth. (I had) clean shifts all day. I'm not sure why it broke."
Defending series champion Kurt Busch, who made headlines earlier in the week when he announced that he was leaving Roush Racing for Penske Racing South in 2007, pitted under caution on lap 36 to top off his fuel. He slowed two laps later with a broken sway bar mount that forced the #97 Ford into the garage.
"The racing gods are looking differently now," said Busch, who finished 39th and dropped one spot to sixth in the standings. "This shouldn't hurt us too bad. We do have some good races coming up. It was just one of those things."
Jeff Gordon was running second behind Stewart midway through the race, but ran into trouble when he ran over debris and cut his left front tire. Gordon pitted under green with 44 laps to go and dropped to the back of the field, but rebounded for a 14th place finish.
Rusty Wallace celebrated his 47th birthday with his 20th -- and final -- Nextel Cup start at Watkins Glen. He started fourth, but struggled early in the race. The team worked on improving his car throughout the day and Wallace worked his way back into the top-10 with 27 laps to go. He passed Mark Martin, who was also likely making his final Cup start at Watkins Glen, on the final restart to finish sixth. Martin passed Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the all-time list with 32 top-10 road course finishes.
Jamie McMurray finished 13th and jumped two spots to ninth in the standings.
After winning at Watkins Glen in 2002, Stewart went on to win his first Nextel Cup championship. He came into Watkins Glen this year with wins in four of the previous six races and a 75 point lead over Jimmie Johnson with six races left before the Chase for the Championship.
Stewart was fourth in the standings before picking up his first win of the season at Sonoma in June. He followed up with wins at Daytona and New Hampshire before his emotional victory last week in Indianapolis. Stewart moved ahead of Johnson, who struggled at the Brickyard, to claim his first points lead of the season. Stewart has finished in the top-10 in eight straight races and stretched his lead over Johnson to 105 points.
"To win five of the last seven -- that's a pretty good record," Stewart understated. "But it's not me making the difference, it's (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) Zippy and the guys that are doing it."