Tony Stewart scored his third Chase race victory of 2011 in the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, a day mired by 18 cautions totaling more than 100 of the 500 laps.
After the final caution of the day, Stewart drove around Jimmie Johnson on the outside after restarting second. Johnson could have used his nose to nudge Stewart and execute a “bump-and-run” for the victory, but stood his ground.
The win moves Stewart to within eight points of Carl Edwards for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship lead. Stewart delivered a one-liner in his post-race victory interview that packed as big a punch as most of the accidents during the race.
“You better be worried, that's all I gotta say,” Stewart declared. “He ain't gonna have an easy three weeks.”
Johnson had the edge after not pitting when most of the field entered the pits with 43 laps to go. He ran on old tires and likely would have held off Stewart, with more than a second gap to the two-time champion, before the final caution caused by Brian Vickers running into the back of Matt Kenseth. That was a retaliation attempt for Kenseth's earlier contact nudging Vickers into the wall.
“I don't know how I got by, because I don't think anyone ever has passed him on the outside,” Stewart explained. “We had the most determined pit crew. I was pretty mad all day. I wasn't excited about restarting there. I ran the second lane and ran two car lengths. The key was getting into (Turn) 1 beside him and not letting Jimmie get high.”
“I just didn't get away from him,” Johnson said. “He hung strong. I was more concerned about clipping the curb. I just wanted to do the right thing and didn't. I just wish prior to that we didn't have the caution, since the 83 (Vickers) was part of every caution. The last restart, I just didn't get it done.”
Jeff Gordon recovered to third place, his best Chase result. He was caught up in a lap 7 skirmish with several other drivers and got some nose damage, and fell into the mid-30s on track.
Edwards finished ninth but was off pace most of the day, having been lapped on several occasions but coming back via several wave-arounds.
Kevin Harvick finished fourth ahead of Denny Hamlin. Brad Keselowski was in a top-five position before a late spin dropped him back to 17th position.
After Edwards and Stewart, Harvick and Keselowski lost ground at 21 and 27 points behind in the standings, respectively. A late accident for Kenseth, separate to Vickers, dropped him to 36 points back for the final three races.
Surviving the 500 laps without a scratch proved a tough proposition for most of the 43-car field.
Results - 500 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet 3h49m52.000s
2. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 0.170s
3. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 0.444s
4. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 1.014s
5. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 2.080s
6. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 2.214s
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick Chevrolet + 3.079s
8. Martin Truex Jr. Waltrip Toyota + 3.300s
9. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 3.599s
10. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 3.733s
11. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 4.299s
12. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 4.647s
13. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 4.975s
14. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 5.096s
15. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 5.846s
16. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford + 7.810s
17. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 14.932s
18. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 17.204s
19. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 23.120s
20. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 23.126s
21. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 1 lap
22. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 3 laps
23. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 3 laps
24. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 3 laps
25. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 5 laps
26. Hermie Sadler TRG Ford + 7 laps
27. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 7 laps
28. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 9 laps
29. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 12 laps
30. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 16 laps
31. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 23 laps
32. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 36 laps
33. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 56 laps
David Gilliland Front Row Ford 357 laps
Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 85 laps
Reed Sorenson Gordon Dodge 77 laps
Scott Speed Whitney Ford 74 laps
David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 52 laps
Michael McDowell HP Toyota 45 laps
JJ Yeley Front Row Ford 40 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 33 laps
Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet 27 laps
Mike Skinner Max Q Ford 7 laps