Sunday, March 11, 2012

Stewart Hits the Jackpot

Tony Stewart had never won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway coming into the Kobalt Tools 400.  Last season, he led the most laps before being defeated at the end of the race by Carl Edwards.  But when the checkered flag fell in Las Vegas today, Tony Stewart led Jimmie Johnson across the start/finish line for his 45th career Sprint Cup Series victory.  Johnson came across the line in second, followed by Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, and Carl Edwards to round out the top five.

Tony Stewart celebrates in Victory Lane (Courtesy Associated Press)
The race began with hope for Junior Nation.  Kasey Kahne started on the pole, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. quickly jumped out to the early lead and led most of the first 75 laps.  But under the second caution for a spin by David Reutimann, Junior took four tires while most of the field took two.  After restarting 16th, Junior was unable to get back to the lead, and finished 10th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. led early before fading to a 10th place finish (Courtesy Getty Images)
 On the final restart, Matt Kenseth spun the tires, and Carl Edwards went underneath him to make it 3-wide with teammate Greg Biffle.  Coming off turn 2, Kenseth's car got sucked around, and he tapped Kasey Kahne before he slapped the wall multiple times, dropping far down in the running order.  Kenseth would stay on the track, and would finish 22nd.

That set up the sprint to the finish between Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.  Johnson was able to pull up to the back bumper of Stewart with about four laps to go, but Stewart was able to hold him off and he began to pull away in the last few laps.  Stewart crossed the finish line first, for his first win of 2012.  Stewart, who didn't get his first win of 2011 until the Chase, now finds himself seventh in the point standings, 25 points behind leader Greg Biffle.

Mark Martin finished 18th after contact from Dale Jr. (Courtesy Getty Images)
 Some other notable finishers: After being hit by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the closing laps, Mark Martin finished 18th.  Martin, who will not be racing next weekend at Bristol, told his crew following the race, "Not a bad day, for a bad day."  Denny Hamlin, who won at Phoenix last weekend, finished 20th.  Kyle Busch spun with eight laps to go, and finished 23rd.  Brad Keselowski, who challenged for the lead late, had trouble on the lap 250 restart, and finished 32nd.

Tony Stewart leads the field on a late restart (Courtesy Getty Images)
 Tony Stewart's momentum has carried over from last season, and he looks poised to collect numerous victories.  Jimmie Johnson seems strong, and he seems determined to race his way out of a 25-point penalty following the Daytona 500.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series rolls into Bristol, and the race promises to have lots of beating and banging.

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