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Stewart Takes First Race Of The 2011 Chase

| , RacinToday.com Monday, September 19 2011

Tony Stewart celebrates his first victory of the season in Victory Lane at Chicagoland Speedway on Monday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)


Tony Stewart went 0 for 26 in the regular portion of the 2011 Sprint Cup season, but on Monday at Chicagoland Speedway, he moved to 1 for 1 in the Chase as he won rain-delayed, playoff-opening Geico 400 in Joliet, Ill.

Stewart, whose last victory had come at Auto Club Speedway in October of 2010, led the final 30 laps in the race, which featured rapidly emptying fuel-tank drama.

“You couldn’t pick a better weekend to get that first win of the year than here at Chicago, obviously,” Stewart said. “We felt like there were three or four opportunities earlier in the year that we let some get away from us.  But we have struggled.

“We’ve had a miserable year.  But the last three weeks have really started coming into it.  We had a really good run in Atlanta.  Good solid run last week at Richmond and then to come out this weekend, I didn’t honestly know going into the race, I don’t think Darian either one of us thought that we had as good a car as we thought we needed to win today.  But it didn’t take long in the race to figure out that we were pretty solid.”

Stewart had enough in his tank to reach the checkered flag first. Kevin Harvick was second and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Carl Edwards finished fourth and Brad Keselowski was fifth.

Not having enough fuel were several other Chase drivers; Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon

Jimmie JOhnson's crew pushes him after he ran out of gas at the Geico 400 on Monday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

and Kyle Busch. They all ran out of fuel over the final lap. Stewart ran out en route to Victory Lane and Harvick ran out after the race on pit road.

Rounding out the top 10 Monday were Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin and Johnson, who rolled across the finishing line out of gas.

Kenseth was originally scored as finishing eighth but was moved back to 21st after being penalized for being pushed by a teammate on final lap.

Harvick moved to the points lead and Stewart moved to second, seven points back.

Kyle Busch, who was pre-race points leader, dropped to 10th after finishing 22nd because of his empty fuel tank.

“We had a good car today and kept fighting back all day long,” Busch said. “But, once we hit that debris it made the car really loose and I was doing the best I can.  I still hoped we could finish in the top-10.  I saved as much fuel as I could but I guess it just wasn’t enough and we ran out with two to go.  Just really disappointing day.

Polesitter Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Edwards each led large chunks of the first half of the 267-lap race.

On lap 163, Johnson took the lead from Newman.

A couple laps later, Jamie McMurray blew and engine to bring out a caution. Keselowski took the lead when he opted not to pit.

Johnson quickly got the lead back when he blew past Keselowski on the outside. Once in front, Johnson was able to move out to leads of almost 4 seconds.

With 63 laps to go, and with Johnson still holding a sizable lead, J.J. Yeley hit the wall and the caution flag waved.

Kenseth won the race off pit road. He was followed by Stewart, Newman and Johnson.

Stewart made the pass for the lead on the restart lap – 208– and began to pull away. A couple laps later, a caution came out for debris. Most of the lead-lap cars pitted – with an eye toward going the rest of the way without having to refuel again – and Martin Truex Jr. took of the lead.

Following Truex when the race went green with 50 laps to go were Kenseth, Stewart and Johnson – all of whom had pitted.

Kenseth took the lead from Truex on the first restart lap, lost it back to  Truex on the second restart lap

Kenseth recaptured the lead with 40 laps to go. Right behind him when he passed Truex was Stewart.

Ten laps later, Stewart moved past Kenseth and took the lead. Stewart began pulling away but with all the leaders in fuel trouble, the race boiled down to mileage.

“It was a really good day at the beginning,” Edwards said, “and we showed a lot of speed and then we struggled a little bit but came back with great fuel mileage at the end and that was huge for us. It allowed us to jump up to fourth and really get good position. That was a nice finish for us in this first race and something we can definitely build on as we head to Loudon.”

Several of the Chase drivers had tough outings on Monday.

Gordon fell of the lead lap early in the race and needed to use  the free pass with just under 100 laps to go to get back back on it, moved toward the front but finished 24th after running out of fuel.

Denny Hamlin fell two laps off the pace after having to pit out of sequence because of a vibration. He later blew a tire and lost more laps to the leaders. He finished 31st.

| , RacinToday.com Monday, September 19 2011
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