Stewart tastes victory in Atlanta

Tony Stewart may have gotten locked out of the Chase for the Nextel Cup but he hasn't lost his taste for victory. In what may be the healthiest substitute for pepperoni pizza yet, Stewart climbed out of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet, ...

Tony Stewart may have gotten locked out of the Chase for the Nextel Cup but he hasn't lost his taste for victory.

In what may be the healthiest substitute for pepperoni pizza yet, Stewart climbed out of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet, scaled the fence, and perched precariously at the very top before finally clambering into the flag stand. Once there, he liberated the checkered flag from the NASCAR official for his own personal collection.

A cooler head prevailed after he had the checkers in hand, and he took the ladder down.

"Our Home Depot Chevrolet was a good car all day," Stewart said. "The No. 24 was really good early in the race but we didn't have the car as good as I thought we could get it. We were just about even with Jeff (Gordon) I hated to see that happen to him. I would have liked to race with him there at the end. Jimmie (Johnson) came on later in the race when the sun went down and so did Matt Kenseth. We did what we wanted to do. We got up front early and stayed up front all day. Jimmie Johnson is a good friend and came up and congratulated us which means a lot to us. Just to be here in Home Depot's back yard is special for us."

Stewart led a race-high 146 laps, taking the lead for the final time on lap 315 powered by four new tires. He had restarted third on lap 306 after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. elected not to pit grabbing the lead, and Carl Edwards took two-tires gaining second. Stewart took just nine laps to get back to the front of the field to score his fourth win of 2006.

It is the 28th victory of his career. Despite two wins and three top-fives in the season's final ten events, the best Stewart can finish in points is 11th, where he currently resides after he narrowly missed the Chase field of ten.

"When we didn't get in it wasn't the end of the world to us," the 2006 Reigning NASCAR champion said of not making the Chase. "We just changed our focus and did what we did tonight, win races. We are happy because the plan we set out for the remaining ten races in on schedule, we've won two races in the last ten and last year we didn't win any in the final ten."

Jimmie Johnson was second. "We're on a great roll right now. I'm so proud of this team. They never gave up. We had some lows. No one has been down and out. We weren't where we wanted to be when the Chase started off. Now, we are getting the results."

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had to battle Matt Kenseth door-to-door on the final lap to capture third, "Just like old times. Matt's a good friend and I don't get to battle him, like we did for wins in the Busch series. Good times."

Kenseth and Greg Biffle complete the top five.

"It was pretty close," explained Kenseth. "Dale Jr. was driving on those old tires and I was just too tight to get by him. I could get a run in three and four and I kind of messed it up at the end, but he was good through one and two. It was a fun race."

Kenseth brought the field to the green flag but it was Kevin Harvick who led the first lap. He led through the first caution for a spin by Kyle Busch on the fourth lap but was overtaken by Earnhardt on lap nine.

The No. 8 Chevy led until lap 23 when Stewart made the pass for the top spot. Stewart remained in the lead until green flag pit stops commenced on lap 56; Earnhardt stayed out grabbing the lead.

When the second caution fell for debris on lap 82 it allowed Earnhardt to rejoin the sequence, he beat everyone off of pit road to lead. Earnhardt and Gordon swapped the top spot several times before Gordon settled in up front on lap 114.

Another round of green flag stops started on lap 139, when everything cycled through it was the 24 car that remained the leader. Gordon quickly dropped to second, with Stewart leading, when on lap 169 when the lapped car of Jamie McMurray got into the back of the No. 24 Chevy bringing out the third caution.

Stewart led on the restart on lap 178 but it took Earnhardt just one lap to charge past the No. 20 car. He led through the fourth caution on lap 196 and the subsequent pit stops. Stewart gave up the lead to Johnson on lap 238 slipping to second.

Johnson led when the fifth yellow waved on lap 242 for debris. The green flag dropped with 78 to go with Johnson, Stewart and Kenseth running 1-2-3. The race was slowed for the sixth time on lap 248 when Kasey Kahne made contact with David Stremme.

The No. 48 Chevy led on the restart on lap 254 but he was easily passed by Stewart. A debris caution on lap 290 brought the leaders to pit road with Stewart ahead on the restart with 30 laps to go.

Stewart had mounted a second-lead over Johnson when Martin Truex, Jr. had a tire failure causing the eighth yellow flag. Most of the lead lap cars pitted but Earnhardt stayed out grabbing the lead.

Earnhardt spun his tires on the restart but it didn't matter. They didn't even finish a lap before a multi-car crash broke out affecting Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Casey Mears Kenny Wallace, Sterling Marlin, and Jeff Green.

On the restart on lap 315, Stewart, on newer tires, sailed by the No. 8 Chevy and straight to Victory Lane.

Matt Kenseth continues to lead the Chase for the Nextel Cup standings. Jimmie Johnson (-26), Denny Hamlin (-65), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-84), Jeff Burton (-84), Kevin Harvick (-121), Jeff Gordon (-146), Mark Martin (-201), Kasey Kahne (-210) and Kyle Busch (-249) complete the Chase field.

There were nine cautions for 39 laps and 24 lead changes among seven drivers.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kenny Wallace , Greg Biffle , Jeff Green , Sterling Marlin , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , David Stremme , Denny Hamlin , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing