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Tony Stewart takes it all in stride, his first win as owner-driver, because there's a lot of racing yet to do this season

Crew chief Darian Grubb's men were point-on perfect in the clutch for Tony Stewart (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
Winning in a backup car….winning after starting dead last….well, Tony Stewart was certainly impressive in Sunday's Pocono 500.
   But then Stewart has been impressive all season, not just at the wheel of now his own cars but also as car owner, with teammate Ryan Newman…and running a brand new team with a lot of new crewmen.
   Then late Sunday Stewart got a key lightning pit stop late, beating leader Carl Edwards out of the pits to take the lead….and then Stewart played the fuel mileage end-game to perfection, baffling his rivals by stretching his fuel 102 miles to win, at the NASCAR track closest to New York City.
    "That pit stop was really the turning point," Stewart said of the psychological edge that gave him.
    "You hated to have to be in that situation, saving fuel. But with a large track like this fuel mileage does become a factor. And then the weather too….
   "So we had to stay in the lead and yet save enough gas to make it if we had a green-white-checkered.
   "I don't know how much we had left. I didn't know how much we had to save.
   "I can't tell you what I was doing. And I'm not usually in a position like that. So I don't know if what I was doing was right or not.
    "But let's give credit to the Hendrick engine department, for not only giving us great power but also great fuel mileage."
   Actually a key might have been Edwards' decision to start backing off. Edwards was the first to start slowing to conserve, and once he did that, that opened the door, Stewart said, for Stewart to do the same: "When they start backing it down, you start backing it down too."
    One big piece to the Stewart puzzle is crew chief Darian Grubb, who has come into his own this season after so many years as car chief for Jimmie Johnson.
   "I had no plans to become a crew chief," Grubb said. "I was perfectly happy as car chief for Jimmie, we were having fun, winning championships. But then when Tony came to me and asked me to take this job, well, I asked him why should I? And he said 'because I want you.'
  "And we've got a chance to build something really good here."
   Still, it's the very fast start that this Stewart-Newman team has had this season that is so stunning.
   And then Sunday's comeback……after all the issues.
   "It was a very interesting weekend all the way around," Grubb said dryly. "Tony felt bad after that crash (Saturday in practice), and he said he felt he gave that car away. But I told him we're a team.
   "We knew we had a car fast enough to go out there and win it….but we had to save fuel. We went from 43rd to 20th in like the first 20 laps, so Tony got to do his racing. Then we had to play the game everyone else was doing at the end."
   "A very historic win," Joe Custer, one of the team's managers, said. "And for them to be able to work through a complex weekend like this, and with Ryan Newman's car as well (a faulty spark plug wire, that kept him on seven cylinders much of the day), I'm very impressed."

Tony Stewart is on the top of his game -- as driver as well as owner (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  Well, so much for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s great comeback.
   Sunday's Pocono 500 was just another ugly afternoon for Earnhardt, whose struggles this season prompted team owner Rick Hendrick into a major shakeup last week, putting Lance McGrew in as his new crew chief, replacing Tony Eury Jr.
   The change seemed to work at Dover, where Earnhardt ran well, as high as third, and finished 12th.
   But here Earnhardt was never in the game.
   He slapped the wall at least twice, and had another bad pit stop.
   Earnhardt's 27th pushed him back to 20th in the standings, which leaves him 245 points behind the 12th-place cutoff for the Sprint Cup championship chase.
    Greg Biffle, who had one of the fastest cars in the field, had some bad luck. "We had a great car, but when we don't need to have good fuel mileage we've got good fuel mileage…and when we need it we don't have it.
   "We had a top-three car, maybe a second-place car."
   Biffle finished 11th.
   Teammate Matt Kenseth wasn't much happier: "We ran third all day…and finished 16th. I don't know what else to say about it….."
    But Kasey Kahne was rather pleased about his strong run down the stretch. "To start up front, then have a throttle cable issue and fall back to 41st, and race our way all the way back up to third was awesome," Kahne said.
   But then gas mileage doomed him to 15th. "We knew everybody was chasing fuel mileage late in the race, and so were we….unfortunately we were on the wrong side of it," Kahne said.
   Down the stretch, with most figuring Stewart and Edwards would both not have enough fuel to finish, it appeared for a long time that Jeff Gordon – who clearly had enough gas to make it – would win. "This is a tough place to save so I am really impressed with those guys that finished ahead of us," Gordon said after finishing fourth.
   Jimmie Johnson, who started on the pole, was also on the wrong side of the fuel equation. And it was a frustrating day for him in other respects too.
   "It was an exciting one," Johnson said.  "We were in a great position…and unfortunately when coming to pit road the caution came out, and I couldn't see a flagman or lights or anything."
   NASCAR socked him with a big penalty, moving him from the front of the field to the rear. And Johnson wasn't happy, and neither was crew chief Chad Knaus. Both made their displeasure clear.
    "Hopefully they can look into a little better (pit road caution) light system at each of the tracks," Johnson fumed.
    "I looked for it later and saw it -- and there is a very small, single light, that's way out from the inside.
    "I think we need to relook at those things at all these tracks that helps the guys that are pitting.
     "But luckily we rebounded from that, and had a great car and drove up to the top-five.
    "Then at the end we were just playing a fuel game. And I didn't play it well enough.
    "I had to run too hard at the start of that run to stay ahead of Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne, and I just used up too much gas. I ran out coming into the tunnel turn (the last lap).
   "I thought Carl ran out of gas on the front (the last lap), so I got in the gas and got by him, and I went down through turn one and came down the backstretch and I ran out."


Tony Stewart's first Sprint Cup tour victory burnout (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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