Stewart wins first Cup points race as team owner
LONG POND, Pa. (AP) – The stress for Tony Stewart came last season when he was trying to assemble his own team.
Stewart held secret midnight meetings, toiled during sleepless nights, and wondered how quickly it would take to build a championship contender.
He shouldn’t have worried about the result. Stewart has made this driver/owner job look easy.
Stewart used every trick available to stretch out his fuel during the final laps Sunday at Pocono Raceway, and came from the rear of the field in his backup car to win his first Cup points race with his new team.
“Sometimes you just need a change to get that little shot in the arm that you need,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t mean that you were not happy with what you were doing before. Sometimes it just means that you need a fresh start and a change.”
While the car and crew changed for Stewart after 10 seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, the results have stayed the same.
He won his 34th career Cup race and first for SHR. Stewart became the first owner/driver to win a points race since Ricky Rudd at Martinsville in 1998 and stretched his lead over Jeff Gordon in the standings to 71 points.
“It’s easy when you’ve got the tools in place,” Stewart said. “When you’ve got a car like we had today, you know that you’ve got a shot at it. It’s just going to be a long day and it’s going to take a long time to get there.”
Stewart needed time to reach the front of the 500-mile race because of a practice accident that forced him into his backup car and dropped him to the back of the pack.
“I’d hate to think I’ve got to screw up every week to win a race,” Stewart said.
Stewart made his last pit stop with 41 laps to go and figured he could drive the rest of the way without another break. He took the lead in the No. 14 Chevrolet with 37 laps remaining and roared to a 6-second lead over Carl Edwards that gave him a crucial buffer down the stretch.
Edwards pushed Stewart and whittled the lead down to about 2 seconds with inside 10 laps remaining, and the two-time Cup champion was unsure of how much gas he had left in the tank.
“I didn’t know how close we really were,” Stewart said.
With a lead in the points standings and a spot in the Chase for the championship all but assured, Stewart could afford to take a risk.
Edwards was second, followed by David Reutimann and Gordon. Stewart’s SHR teammate Ryan Newman was fifth.
Edwards, still looking for his first win of 2009, was convinced Stewart would run out of fuel. He was also sure Stewart would need more time to become so dominant and lead the points standings like he is only 14 races into the season.
Edwards was wrong on both counts.
“The things that he set out to accomplish this year were huge. I personally didn’t believe he could get it done,” Edwards said. “I’m extremely impressed with that. I can only imagine how good that feels to get that done.”
The first Cup points race with double-file restarts finished without any confusion. The drivers meeting lasted nearly 30 minutes as final questions were answered on the new restart rules that line up the 43-car field following a yellow.
“I’m sure they’ll refine it and make it better, but I think it worked out pretty good,” Reutimann said.
So has Stewart’s decision to bolt JGR to buy a 50-percent stake in his own team.
He’s destroyed all expectations in his first season as owner and driver. It was the first points victory since he left JGR at the end of last year after two Cup championships and snapped a 19-race points winless streak.
This was the first points victory for the team since their 2002 debut as Haas CNC Racing.
His second-place finish last week at Dover allowed him to become the first driver/owner to lead the points since Alan Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup championship, a span of 556 races.
“There will be a banner hanging in the shop that marks this day and time in history for the organization,” Stewart said. “But you can’t sit on it too long.”