Stewart edges Edwards for first win of season
Tony Stewart raced to his first victory of the year, pulling away from Carl Edwards off the final restart Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga.
Stewart beat Edwards by 1.316 seconds for his first victory since Oct. 4, 2009, at Kansas, leaving Edwards winless since the 2008 season finale.
Jimmie Johnson was third, followed by Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch.
Ten drivers have now clinched spots in the 12-man Chase for the Sprint Cup championship going into the final race before the playoff begins, led by points leader Kevin Harvick. Jeff Gordon, Busch, Stewart, Edwards, Burton, Johnson, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin are also heading to the 10-race playoff.
Still looking to lock up spots heading into next weekend’s race at Richmond - essentially the regular-season finale - are No. 11 Greg Biffle and No. 12 Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer has a relatively comfortable 117-point lead on No. 13 Ryan Newman. Sentimental favorite Mark Martin, trying to win his first Cup championship at age 51, slipped a spot in the standings and is now 15th - a daunting 147 points out of the playoff - heading to Richmond.
The final caution of the night came out after Newman made contact with Kasey Kahne, nearly causing a crash on the backstretch.
Stewart was out front when the green came back out with 19 laps to go, and he zoomed off the line to beat Edwards into the first corner. From there, the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy steadily pulled away, clearly the strongest car on a night in which he led eight times for a total of 176 laps - more than the rest of the field put together.
“I didn’t hit a restart all night until right there at the end,” Stewart said. “I’ve never been so happy with a win in my life.”
Edwards has not driven into Victory Lane since his nine-win season of 2008. But he led more laps in Atlanta (32) than he had in the last 46 races combined, giving him plenty of confidence that he can contend for his first series title.
“Tony just has such a fast car at the end, but we’re back,” Edwards said. “I know we don’t look good as we did in 2008, but we’re better prepared to race for the championship.”
Johnson also is headed back to the Chase, giving him a shot to add to an already unprecedented four straight Cup titles.
“This is a huge relief for myself and this team,” he said. “that was so much fun. That was the way racing should be. Even at the end, we were trying to run (Edwards) down. We were racing hard with these guys. That says lot about (Johnson’s) team going forward.”