Stewart earns second straight Chase victory
LOUDON, N.H. Tony Stewart’s season has gone from winless to winning streak at crunch time.
Don’t ask Smoke to explain it.
While Chase drivers around him run out of gas, Stewart has the fuel to go the distance and inject the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a dose of dominance that has him a formidable front-runner for a third title.
Stewart smoked ’em again and made it 2 for 2 in the Chase, pulling ahead when Clint Bowyer ran out of gas with two laps left to win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.
“You don’t see it coming,” Stewart said.
Only a few weeks ago, Stewart considered his car in the Chase a waste of a spot. Bad runs, bad luck, bad everything.
Seems like a different a season.
Stewart is on a roll with eight races left, building on last week’s Chase-opening victory at Chicagoland Speedway with another strong late-race surge at New Hampshire. Both of his victories this season have come in the Chase and have propelled him to the top of the points standings.
The outcome was a complete reversal of the race at New Hampshire last fall, when Stewart’s tank ran dry a lap from the checkered flag and Bowyer pounced for the victory.
“If that’s not a flip-flop from last year, I don’t know what is,” Stewart said over the radio as he crossed the finish line.
Stewart had called this season a “miserable year” before getting hot in the final two races before the Chase.
Stewart overtook Kevin Harvick for the points lead and made himself the car to beat after a rather pedestrian regular season. Even Stewart counted himself out him before the Chase, declaring he would call himself, “a total bumbling idiot,” if he won the championship. He might win his third title—but don’t expect Smoke to call himself a favorite.
“Got eight long weeks still, man,” Stewart said. “It’s way too early to start counting chickens.”
How about counting wins?
Stewart, who won Cup titles in 2002 and 2005, is the second driver to ever open the Chase with consecutive victories.
“The potential’s been there all year,” he said. “You wonder when the bad luck string is going to stop. You hope (good luck) happens another eight weeks now. We hope we’re through with it and we can keep clicking off top-fives, top-10s. If we could get a couple of more wins, that would be awesome.”
Stewart led a pack that included four other Chase drivers in the top 10. Brad Keselowski was second, Jeff Gordon was fourth, Cambridge native Matt Kenseth was sixth and Carl Edwards eighth. Gordon moved from 11th to sixth in the standings.
Denny Hamlin, who entered in 12th and a whopping 41 points out, finished 29th and was the worst Chase finisher. A year after he went into the finale with the points lead, Hamlin’s shot at his first title is over.
Jimmie Johnson, the five-time defending champion, finished 18th and is 10th in the standings.
Other Chase driver results saw Kyle Busch finish 11th; Harvick 12th; Dale Earnhardt Jr. 17th; Kurt Busch 22nd; and pole winner Ryan Newman 25th.
Fuel mileage was a deciding factor with several contenders falling away when they ran out of fuel. Bowyer, still looking for at least one victory this season before he leaves Richard Childress Racing, thought he could stretch his gas until the very end. He wound up 26th.
Greg Biffle, the only other driver to open the Chase with two straight wins, was third. Brian Vickers was fifth.
Round 3 of the Chase is next week at Dover International Speedway.