'Smoke' Rises in Martinsville
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on October 30, 2011 | 5:51 P.M. EST
Stewart won his third race in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. (Photo: Getty Images)
Tony Stewart got around Jimmie Johnson on the final restart with three laps to go and went on to score the victory in Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Stewart mounted a strong come back in the rough and tumble race on the .526-mile short track to score his third victory of the Chase.
Johnson had the lead on the day’s final restart after caution flag number 18 of the afternoon with Stewart and Jeff Gordon in hot pursuit.
Stewart used the outside line to pass Johnson and then pulled away to take his first Martinsville checkered flag since 2006.
“Yea, to be honest I was not excited starting second, I would have rather re-started third, but Jeff (Gordon) got to us and I hit the curb off of four before the restart, Jeff got underneath us going into one, I ran that second lane and pulled two car lengths on ya, and said wow this lane has a little bit more grip than I thought it had up there,” Stewart explained about the final run to the checkered flag.
It was the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s 42nd career Sprint Cup Series victory helped him pull to within eight points of the Chase lead with three races to go in the season.
“Carl Edwards had better be real worried,” Stewart said. “That’s all I’ve got to say. He’s not going to sleep for the next three weeks.”
Johnson led 61 laps on the day but was forced to settle for the runner-up finish.
“Yea, I just could not get away from him on the restart,” Johnson said. “He hung on strong on the outside, and I was more worried about clipping a curb when he was running me tight and not take him out of a championship situation, minding my P’s and Q’s. I just wanted to do the right thing and unfortunately got beat in the process.”
Gordon was involved in an early race incident that damaged his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. But the four-time series champion put on a diligent comeback of his own to finish third.
April Martinsville winner Kevin Harvick finished fourth but was able to move up two spots in the standings to third.
Four-time Martinsville race winner and Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series victor Denny Hamlin rounded out the first five.
Jeff Burton was sixth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. seventh, Martin Truex Jr. eighth and Carl Edwards ninth after a nearly miraculous recovery.
Edwards started on the pole after qualifying was rained out and the field set by the point standings. But he swiftly dropped back in the field and eventually lost two laps.
But undaunted the Roush Fenway Racing driver fought back furiously and his finish inside the top ten allowed Edwards to maintain his lead in the Chase standings.
“That’s just a gift to have finished in ninth and have the day we had,” said Edwards who responded to Stewart’s challenge that he was coming for the Chase lead next week. “He’s wound up. He won the race. We’ll see what happens at Texas. I feel like we’re gonna go there and we’re gonna have as good a shot to win as anyone.”
Ryan Newman completed the first ten finishers.
Other Chase contenders had very tough days including Edwards’ teammate Matt Kenseth, who was involved in a pair of incidents with Brian Vickers as well as Kyle Busch that eventually added up to a 31st-place finish.
“With Brian he just kept hitting me in the door,” Kenseth explained. “I mean, we’re at Martinsville and I gave him the bottom. Obviously, I’m not gonna roll over and let him go with 40 to go or whatever it was and he just kept driving in harder and harder and he slammed me in the door at least five times and just ran me up in the marbles and I was just tired of it, so I spun him out.
“I don’t know how you can’t pass somebody here without running into him every single time when he gives you the bottom and the fastest lane, but obviously he couldn’t and I was trying to get every position I could at the end of the race.”
Brad Keselowski was mounting a solid charge to the front of the field until the closing laps when he was spun out in a multi-car chain reaction stack up. Keselowski sat on track hoping for a caution that did not fly and eventually re-fired his car but was credited for a 17th place finish.
Kyle Busch ran near the front but also got caught in an incident with Kenseth that damaged his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He came to pit road for repairs and had the situation then turn worse when he returned to track only to have a wheel come off because lug nuts weren’t properly tightened. Busch finished 27th.
In all the race was slowed by 18 cautions for 108 laps.
Edwards leads Stewart by eight points with Harvick third 21 behind, Keselowski now 27 out and Kenseth falling to 36 behind.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Texas Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s AAA Texas 400.