For NASCAR fans, it’s time to pay attention to this year’s chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Three races remain on successive weekends in Texas, Phoenix and the Homestead-Miami Speedway, and two-time champion Tony Stewart is making an end-of-season run at winning his first title as a team owner. On the half-mile Martinsville oval last weekend he took the lead with two laps to go to score his third win of the year and move to within eight points of championship leader Carl Edwards, who finished ninth.
Stewart almost went a lap down at one point, but was in second place beside leader Jimmie Johnson for the last of no fewer than 18 restarts with just three laps to go. Jeff Gordon was the most dominant driver at Martinsville, leading 113 laps, and was in third place for the restart. After battling with Gordon for half a lap as the green flag waved Stewart attacked Johnson in an unusual move around the outside to go ahead.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever passed Jimmie on the outside,” said Tony. “It was just determination. I don’t think we had the best car today by any means but we had the most determined team to get it the best they could. I think I was the only guy who didn’t get in a wreck with somebody so I’m kind of proud of that.
“I hit the kerb at [turn] four before the restart and Jeff got underneath me going into one. Then I pulled two car lengths on him and thought, ‘Wow, it’s got more grip up there than I thought.’ And I stayed up there, and man, we went right around Jimmie.”
Defending five-time champion Johnson freely admitted that he didn’t do the best job at the end. “We were in the catbird seat to win,” he said. “But I just didn’t do a good job on the last restart.”
Gordon finished third and is 10th in the points, 76 behind leader Edwards. “The last few runs we lost the edge we had at one time, especially on short runs,” he said. “So I didn’t have much for those guys at the end. We needed more long green flag runs than we had.”
Gordon applauded Stewart for his winning pass. “A great effort by Tony. I didn’t think he could pass Jimmie on the outside. When things get tough you’ve really got to look out for that guy.”
Stewart said he’s ready to do whatever it takes to beat Edwards to this year’s Sprint Cup title. “He better be worried, that’s all I gotta say,” he grinned. “He isn’t going to have an easy three weeks.”
Kevin Harvick finished fourth at Martinsville and is third in the championship, 21 points behind Edwards. Brad Keselowski is fourth, with Matt Kenseth fifth and Johnson sixth.