Stewart Makes Waste of Competition
Brad Keselowski had a shot at him. So did Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Heck, Jimmie Johnson had a couple.
And Tony Stewart blew them all away. Restart after restart after restart.
Stewart's strength Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was on restarts. And time and time again, he laid waste to the competition on his way to victory in the Kobalt Tools 400.
But while Stewart was the dominant car every time the green flew, he admitted he wasn't sure how many more restarts he could take as the laps wound down.
"You sit there and go, 'How many times are we going to risk losing this race because of a restart?' " Stewart said. "It's very nerve-racking. That was the great thing about our race car: I think we were hands-down the strongest car on restarts of getting to Turn 1 from the restart point."
The signature moment of Sunday's race came when Stewart used the apron to get underneath both Keselowski and Clint Bowyer to make a three-wide power move for the lead on Lap 234.
"We had a lot of real estate down there," Stewart said. "We almost got too good a restart because I got such a good run on Brad. Knowing we can't pull out of line till we cross the start/finish line, I almost got to him too quick. If we would have got there a foot earlier, I was going to have to check up and we probably wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to get underneath him like that.
"We all took off at the same time and I had enough of a gap to let myself get that run on him. [LVMS has] a really nice transition from the race track to the apron. You can use it. [It] gave us the room to go underneath him there."
And once Stewart grabbed that lead, he refused to give it up, despite three more restarts over the final 20 laps. The best in the business gave him their best shot. And when the smoke cleared, Smoke clearly was the best on this day.
And that made the victory all the sweeter for Stewart, who could finally put a check in the win column next to Las Vegas. With the exception of the new race at Kentucky, all that's missing from his NASCAR Cup resume now is a Southern 500 victory, and he can make that happen this spring at Darlington.
"You know guys like Jimmie, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, guys like that aren't going to make mistakes at the end," Stewart said. "There's a reason they win a lot of races. That's because when it comes to the bottom of the ninth, they need to make that big move, they know how to do that.
"That's what made [Sunday] a little more special. It wasn't handed to us. Not only did we have to fight off a challenge once, we had to do it about four or five times in the last 30 laps. It makes you feel like you've earned your deal. Every one of those guys took a shot at us at some point on a restart. That's why I'm really proud of the effort we had [Sunday]."
Not surprisingly, Stewart's foes would love to look at the computer mapping data that may have given him an edge.
"I've already asked for it, too," Johnson said. "It's got to be a two-way street. They've been looking at our stuff for a lot of years."
"It was clear that [Stewart] had more power than we did," Biffle said. "It appeared to me like he had more power than [Johnson]. He could kind of drive away from him. That car was very, very fast. Long time since I've seen a car that fast."
However, Stewart said the data may not tell the whole story.
"It wasn't that we were just tromping the throttle," Stewart said. "I was pedaling it to get to the start/finish line. The new tire that they brought, it was easy to get a lot of buildup on the tires on the cautions. That's why you saw everybody, you were seeing guys working hard to keep the tires cleaned off.
"We found a sequence to do that that helped out a lot and I could do it consistently. I knew when it was time to go, that I could go when I needed to, knew exactly what to expect. I think that was a pretty big factor in it.
"But I can promise you, our teammates with Hendrick [Motorsports] will know what's going on. If the roles were reversed, they would make sure we had that information. We will make sure they have that information."
A week ago at Phoenix, Stewart and crew chief Steve Addington were cursing their luck with the new electronic fuel injection. Now it's the competition's turn to curse, because Stewart's restarts on Sunday were downright electrifying.