Tony Stewart once said that he would trade his NASCAR Cup championship for a win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Luckily, he won't have to do anything that extreme; Stewart held off Kasey Kahne in the closing laps of the Brickyard 400 to earn the...
Tony Stewart once said that he would trade his NASCAR Cup championship for a win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Luckily, he won't have to do anything that extreme; Stewart held off Kasey Kahne in the closing laps of the Brickyard 400 to earn the most important win of his career.
A spontaneous celebration of epic proportions broke out -- as the crowd chanted "Tony" the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing team climbed the fence, as Stewart lapped the track saluting the fans. Stewart finally parked at the front stretch and performed the move he's been preparing for his whole life: climbing the fence at IMS, his home track.
To cap off the party, Stewart, his entire team, and Chevy program manager Alba Colon all got on their knees to kiss the bricks on the two and one-half mile historic oval. "I wish I could put it into words," remarked the emotional race winner. "I've wanted this my entire life."
Stewart's win gave him the lead in championship points; it is his fourth win in the last six races.
The Indiana native is just the second driver born in the mid-west state to earn a victory at the Brickyard, Wilbur Shaw won the open-wheel Indy 500 race in 1940.
"You dream about something for so long that you become consumed by it," said Stewart. "I worked in this area for so long. I used to drive a tow truck.and drive down 16th Street every day and think I wonder what it would be like to win there."
Kasey Kahne gave a valiant effort to chase down Stewart but it was not meant to be. He piloted his Evernham Motorsports #9 Dodge to second in the 160-lap race.
"That's a big win for him," said Kahne of Stewart. "I would have loved to win the race but we just didn't have it there at the end. I think if I could have held him off through one and two, we might have been all right in the clean air, but just not sure. He was really good at the end."
Brian Vickers was third, achieving his sixth top ten of the year. "We're happy," remarked Vickers. "To say we were ecstatic we would have had to have the win.I am real proud of my guys and what we accomplished here."
Jeremy Mayfield and Matt Kenseth completed the top five.
"It was a real good points day for us," Mayfield commented. "It was a good top five and we had a shot to win the race. The car just got tight at the end."
Polesitter Sadler led the field to the green flag and quickly jumped out to an impressive lead. Sadler had pulled out to a two-plus second lead on the field when the first caution flag waved on lap 22. After the grid pitted, Sadler retained the top spot and on the restart once again put distance between the #38 Ford and the rest of the field.
Sadler lost the lead after a series of stops for a caution on lap 37. Vickers and several other cars took just two tires beating Sadler (who took four) off pit road. Sadler restarted in the sixth spot. Vickers led until Kenseth overtook him on lap 52 to put the #17 Ford out front.
Subsequent stops and strategy put Kahne into the lead on lap 70 with Sadler right behind. Vickers did not pit on lap 91 and regained the lead but it didn't last long as Stewart finally found a spot at his favorite track on lap 100.
Stewart and Kahne battled for the lead with thirty-five laps to go, with Kahne finally winning the spot on lap 134 but Kahne's team wasn't positive that the #9 could make it to the end on fuel.
Neither were Stewart and his #20 team.
In the end, Stewart and Kahne both had enough juice to being them to the finish line as Stewart collected his 23rd career win.
Tire issues were widespread, biting Joe Nemechek, Michael Waltrip, Jason Leffler, Bobby Hamilton, Jr., Casey Mears, Jeff Green, Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson.
The event's big multi-car incident came on lap 63 when the #23 Dodge bumped Dale Earnhardt, Jr. turning the #8 Chevy into the outside wall. Earnhardt shot back up the track collecting teammate Martin Truex, Jr., Scott Wimmer and Robby Gordon.
"Everybody took off and then everybody stopped and I got run into," Earnhardt commented. "It's hard to see what the leaders are doing when you are in the back."
It was a devastating blow to Earnhardt's championship hopes, "I just hope I don't have to get back in that piece of crap today. If we make the Chase, we make it. If we don't, we don't. We'll still try to win some races before the year is out."
Earnhardt finished dead last and now sits 16th in points, 627 behind the leader. There is little chance that Earnhardt will be eligible to compete in this year's Chase for the Nextel Cup.
It was also a disastrous weekend in points for Johnson who came into the Brickyard with the point lead but will not leave with it. Johnson's troubles started on Saturday when his team could not get the #48 Chevy through inspection in time to qualify. NASCAR gave the team a five minute warning, which they missed; thusly NASCAR banned the team from qualifying the car.
Johnson had to start in the rear of the field and was making steady progress to the front when he spun on lap 73. The hits just kept coming for Team 48. On a pit stop on lap 93, the catch can was left in the car, causing a stop-and-go penalty.
Through strategy Johnson was able to get back to the top ten with 16 to go, but a flat tire sent Johnson hard into the wall knocking him unconscious. To make matters worse, the car caught fire on pit road.
"Man, that was a hard hit," said Johnson. "I think that is the hardest hit I have ever taken. Just blew the front tire and away I went, head first, so thank god for soft walls and the HANS device."
Johnson was alert and speaking when he exited the car but was transported to Methodist Hospital for further evaluation.
"They are just going to take him over there and check him out," commented crew chief Chad Knaus. "His bell has definitely been rung. That was a pretty hard hit he took out there."
Johnson finished 38th and now trails Stewart by 75 points. Greg Biffle (-111), Rusty Wallace (-218), Kurt Busch (-277), Mark Martin (-287), Ryan Newman (-355), Jeremy Mayfield (-369), Dale Jarrett (-430) and Carl Edwards (-436) complete the top five.
Sadler, who led 39 laps, fell back in the closing laps of the race when he thought he had a tire going down. The team was forced to pit and finished 32nd. They fall from ninth to 12th in standings, 460 points shy of the leader.
"I don't know what to say," said a dejected Sadler. "I thought I had a tire going down. I don't know if it was or not. I guess not. I don't know. It's just not our year. It's not meant to be. The guys gave me a great car and it's just not meant to be."
Notably, Jeff Gordon finished eighth and sits 14th, 523 points out.
There were 10 cautions for 43 laps and 15 lead changes among 10 drivers.