NASCAR – Smoke Gets His First Win in Vegas, Holding Off Johnson at the Line

Tony Stewart raises the Wrench after winning the Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas

Tony Stewart took on every restart like a man possessed.  Every time the green flag flew, so did the #14 car, putting 4 to 5 car lengths between himself and the field.  The numbers finally played into Stewart’s hands and his win was simply in the cards in Las Vegas.  After taking the lead just after the mid point of the race Stewart looked impossible to beat and it turns out he was.  Tony led the field for 127 laps including the most important final 34 laps of the race.  Restarting 4 times at the head of the field Stewart powered away from the field easily and made everyone chase him again, just like the end of the 2010 season.

The numbers game seemed to play into Stewart’s hand in Vegas, his first win in 14 starts here, in the number 14 car, after having a win in each of his 14 seasons in NASCAR so far.  Stewart, who is known for coming on strong at the end of the season, scored his earliest victory in any race season so far with this win.

“Man, I’m just finally glad to win one here,” said Stewart, “We were so close last year and had a dominant car.” referring to an incident last year when he dragged an air wrench out of the pit stall during a stop.

“I’m not sure we had the dominant car today, but we had an awful fast Chevy. Just glad to finally, finally get one at Vegas.”

Stewart’s restarts were a thing of beauty each and every time.  Pulling away from the field like he was running from his dad after getting an F on his report card, he made it look easy.

“Every time the caution came out, I’m like, ‘Not again,’ ” Stewart said. “You wonder how many times you’re going to give them a chance at it on a restart there, and when they’re going to be able to capitalize on us.”

“But, that was our strong suit today. We were really strong on the restarts. Just proud of the Hendrick engine department; making great steam with it. That was the key to our restarts was the power that we had. We could go without spinning the tires, and we could get a really good lead into Turn 1 and just haul butt down the backstretch.”

Jimmie Johnson rides around during driver introductions

Jimmie Johnson finished second despite a strong charge at the end.  He made it a race with his efforts but ended up finishing only .461 seconds behind the #14.

“They were awfully strong,” Johnson said of Stewart and the No. 14 team. “The last two restarts … second to the last restart, I just blew it. He got away from me. The next to the last start, I felt like I got a good one. He still cruised away.

“My only chance was to be at his outside through 1 and 2. Didn’t have that opportunity. He had the lane at that point. I drove my guts out, but just didn’t get it done.”

“I don’t know what the average speed was, but we’re flying around here,” Johnson said. “The faster you go, the more that clean air becomes a priority. Passing for the lead was tough. I worked my way all the way through the field. Took me forever to get by [Kenseth] on one of those runs for the lead itself.

“Luckily, we’re on a track with multiple grooves and we can move around, but the first car definitely has an advantage.”

Greg Biffle didn’t have the car to win, but in a sport that rewards consistency, having finished 3rd for 3 races in a row Biffle is now the points leader.  It may be a consolation prize but it’s the first time he has held the points lead since 2005, and it has to feel good to be the man on top.

Biffle struggled with a loose car all day and Crew Chief Greg Erwin just didn’t seem to be able to get a handle on it.

Greg Biffle's #16 machine looked loose in practice, but Biffle piloted it up to a 3rd place finish

“My car just didn’t turn good enough,” Biffle explained. “That’s what I lacked. We fought loose, loose, loose in practice, kept working on it, working on it. Finally, at the end of the day, we got it to where it was pretty good.

“I was just too tight. Right from the green, I was too tight. We just kind of pecked at it, and we should have taken two, three rounds of wedge out [to change the weight distribution]. We took one out. I just was not aggressive enough.

“I should have taken two, three rounds out of it or raised the track bar a half-inch, maybe pulled rubber out of the left rear — I might have been up their tail pipe Tony Stewart at the end. We had a good run. Even then I don’t know if we had a car that was fast enough.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr looked really strong in the early stages of the race leading 70 laps and looking like the car to beat.  As the race wore down however Jr seemed to lose his edge and once he fell back into traffic he was never able to regain the lead.

Dale Jr waves to the crowd during driver introductions

“We didn’t keep up with the race track,” said Earnhardt, who led a career-low 52 laps last year. “The car was really fast at the start of the race. I didn’t give that information to [crew chief] Steve [Letarte]. I don’t think I gave him a good enough understanding of where our race car was, even though it was really fast. The track got really tight on us at the end of the race — something that I should have had a handle on and should have known better and should have not let happen.”

“We just didn’t have our adjustments going throughout the day to keep up with the track as it tightened up on us. The [car] was really good all weekend. We had good speed. Hopefully, we can keep bringing cars like that to the race track, and we’ll get some opportunities to win.”

Next week it’s off to Bristol where the short track will decide who is left at the end, more than who has the best car.

 

 

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