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Stewart Holds Off Jimmie To Win Las Vegas

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 11 2012

Tony Stewart performs post-victory burnout at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

RacinToday.com

Tony Stewart looked like anything but the defending Sprint Cup Series champion in the first two races of the 2012 season. But in race No. 3, he looked exactly like the defending champion.

Stewart led most of the second half of the Kobalt 400 Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon, and went on to win his first race since he clinched the 2011 championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season finale.

The victory was the first for Stewart at the Las Vegas 1.5-mile tri-oval. To get it, he had to survive a slew of late-race restarts.

Jimmie Johnson, a five-time champion, finished second – .461 seconds behind Stewart, a three-time champ.

“Man, I’m just finally glad to win one here,” Stewart said. “We were so close last year and had a dominate car. I’m not sure we had the dominate car, but we had an awful fast Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy. Just glad to finally, finally get one at Vegas. We have to win ourselves a Southern 500 (at Darlington Raceway) and we’ll have won at all the tracks we’re racing at right now.”

“We’ll take it, but I want to win,” Hendrick Motorsport’s Johnson, whose last victory came last October in Kansas, said.

“But, we’ll just have to try it again next time. Great race car. To be out here in a back-up (car) and to drive from dead-last to the lead, and then finish second is pretty awesome. Hate coming up short. Glad to be on

Tony Stewart gets first victory of the season and a big wrench. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

the West Coast and see all my fans. Look forward to doing it again soon.”

Third was Greg Biffle while Ryan Newman, Stewart’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing was fourth.

Carl Edwards, Biffle’s teammate at Roush Fenway Racing was, was fifth. Biffle moved to the series points lead with his finish.

Rounding out the top 10 were Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led 70 laps.

Stewart took the lead from Johnson just after a restart on lap 134 and led the next 93 laps. He surrendered that lead to Clint Bowyer when Bowyer and Brad Keselowski opted to not pit on a caution with 39 to go.

Stewart immediately blew back to the lead on the restart. He briefly gave the lead up to Keselowski, but took it right back a lap later.

The final 40 laps of the 267-lap race were marked by four cautions. On each ensuing restart, Stewart showed championship form and got his 45th career win.

“Every time the caution came out,” Stewart said, “I’m like ‘Not again’. You wonder how many times you are going to give them a chance at it on a restart there, and when are they going to be able to capitalize on us. But, that was our strong suit today. We were really strong on the restarts. Just proud of the Hendrick engine department; making great steam with it. That was the key to our restarts was the power that we had. We could go without spinning the tires and we could get a really good lead into turn one, and just haul butt down the backstreatch with this Hendrick horsepower.”

It was his first with new crew chief Steve Addington.

“He’s (Addington) been pretty nervous to start with here, but he’s doing an awesome job,” Stewart said. “I didn’t even think about it, the way he said it, we win the championship, and it is hard to come into a team after they’ve won a championship like that. I don’t know that there are too many guys other than a guy like Steve Addington that could step into a role and succeed Darin Grubb and do the job he is doing. Really proud of Steve. Really proud of our guys. I mean it is the same guys that we had last year, just throwing in a little bit different leadership. We had a great leader with Darian, and I miss him, but I’m proud of our new leader, Steve.”

In the first two races of the season – at Daytona and Phoenix – Stewart had finshed 16th and 22nd respectively.

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 11 2012
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