Stewart Survives to Win at Martinsville
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The pace car may have been in the running for most laps led during the Tums Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, but Tony Stewart stayed out of trouble to take the race win, his third of the season and third in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“I think I was the only guy that didn’t wreck with anybody today,” Stewart said in victory lane.
Sunday’s race was caution-filled, especially in the early-going and late in the race. Overall, the yellow flag waved 18 times -- five times in the first 100 laps and another seven times in the final 100 laps of the 500-lap race.
“That was crazy, absolutely crazy,” Jeff Gordon said after the race.
The Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jimmie Johnson and Gordon finished second and third. Kevin Harvick was fourth, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five.
The high number of cautions presented the opportunity for varying pit strategies throughout the race, and those varying pit strategies resulted in several different drivers finding themselves with the lead, sometimes short-lived leads, throughout the race.
Through middle portions of the race, the top positions were held primarily by Johnson, Gordon, Hamlin and Kyle Busch, and a few others.
Late in the race, though, Johnson got caught out on older tires. While leading when a caution came out with 43 laps to go, Johnson stayed out, thinking several of the other frontrunners would join him, but most of the cars behind him pitted.
It didn’t matter. Johnson was able to hold them off, until he was joined by Stewart on the front row for a restart with under 10 laps remaining. Stewart, who had worked his way from outside the top-20 into the top-10 three different times throughout the race, got by Johnson on the outside on the final restart and took the win.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever passed Jimmie Johnson on the outside,” Stewart said.
With the race victory, Stewart climbed to second in the championship point standings to trail Carl Edwards by eight. Edwards started the race from the pole but fell off the lead lap two different times during the race before driving back into the top-10 to finish ninth.
After the race, Stewart issued a warning to the points leader.
“He better be worried,” Stewart said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Harvick moved up to third in points, 21 points behind Edwards.