Tony Stewart claimed his first Sprint Cup victory as a team owner by passing Matt Kenseth with two laps to go and winning the non-championship NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.
It took the two-time champion just fourteen outings to put his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet into victory lane for the first time, in what has been an impressive start for his newly-formed operation.
Stewart had run under the radar all night but he moved up front when it mattered most. He had been ninth in the first segement of the event, eighth in the second and took the green flag for the final 10-lap sprint from sixth place. He then avoided three separate incidents ahead of him, took advantage of them to gain positions and arrived on the rear-bumper of leader Kenseth following the final restart with five laps remaining.
He made a first attempt at passing the Roush Fenway driver with four laps to go but could not get the pass completed. A couple of laps later Stewart dived to the inside of Kenseth again at Turn 1, this time successfully taking the lead and holding on to it for the final mile-and-a-half to win his first ever All-Star race and the million-dollar check that came with it.
"I cannot believe [Kenseth] gave me the bottom [line]," said Stewart. "But I'll take it. Matt is a guy you can trust. We got to second there, got by the 18 [Kyle Busch] and I thought all right, we have a shot at this thing.
"We weren't that good until the last run but [crew chief] Darian Grubb made some awesome calls there at the end to get us where I could drive that thing the way I could. Man, it was fast."
Kenseth blamed a tight car at the end for not being able to fend off Stewart's charge following the last restart. The former Sprint Cup champion had started the final ten-lap segment of the event from second after being a frontrunner for most of the night.
"It sucks getting beaten, obviously," Kenseth said. "I thought we had a shot. Most of the night we were really good on long runs and really bad on short runs. We were just really loose and we tightened it up a lot there at the break.
"The tires held up for four or five laps. I just got too tight and Tony was running up on me real fast there, and I chose the middle because I'd been really fast in the middle of one and two. That was my best groove, I just hit the ground and got so tight I couldn't get it to turn."
2003 champion Kurt Busch finished third while Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five.
Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson had a disappointing end to his day, crossing the finish line in 13th place. He had started the event from pole and led the entirety of the first 50-lap segment, choosing to pit for four new tires at the end of it and dropping down the order.
On the second lap of the third segment he had a brush with the wall, but still he was able to finish fifth and get a good starting spot for the final 10-lap sprint. However he spun on the first lap while exiting Turn 4, apparently due to some contact with Hamlin, which put an end to his chances of winning.
Kyle Busch won the second segment of the event after taking only two new tires at the end of the first segment in order to gain track position. Kenseth mirrored his strategy and finished second, followed by Mark Martin. Busch stayed out after the second segment but he started struggling for grip and eventually finished fourth in the third segment.
In the fourth and final segment Busch was impressive on almost every restart, jumping from fourth to first in the first one. However he did not have enough pace to stay up front and would eventually drop back in the last five laps, crossing the finish line in seventh.
Three-time All-Star winner Jeff Gordon claimed victory in the crucial third segment and look set to win the event for a record fourth time. However Kyle Busch's fast restart on lap three of the final segment hampered Gordon. On lap five and while fighting for the lead with Busch, he made contact with the Joe Gibbs driver and with Ryan Newman while they ran three-wide at the exit of Turn 4.
Gordon spun and then hit the wall head-on, finishing his race on the spot. Newman's battered car then fell out of contention for victory while Busch's car also got some damage.
Joey Logano paid back to the fans that voted him in the race with an eighth place finish.
Sam Hornish Jr won his first NASCAR race by beating Jamie McMurray in the Sprint Showdown, but he was only 16th in the main event. He made contact with Greg Biffle on lap two of the third segment, causing damage to the right side of his car. Meanwhile McMurray finished the night in ninth place.Related stories:• Hornish takes first NASCAR victory in Showdown• Hendrick duo lament missed chance• Logano thankful for fans’ vote
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 100
2. Matt Kenseth Ford 100
3. Kurt Busch Dodge 100
4. Denny Hamlin Toyota 100
5. Carl Edwards Ford 100
6. Mark Martin Chevrolet 100
7. Kyle Busch Toyota 100
8. Joey Logano Toyota 100
9. Jamie McMurray Ford 100
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 100
11. Bobby Labonte Ford 100
12. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 100
13. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 100
14. Kasey Kahne Dodge 100
15. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 100
16. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 100
17. Brad Keselowski Chevrolet 100
18. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 93
19. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 92
20. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 85
21. Greg Biffle Ford 71