Powering away from Jimmie Johnson after a restart with four laps left in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the reigning Sprint Cup champion took the checkered flag .461 seconds ahead of Johnson.
The victory was Stewart’s first at the 1.5-mile track, leaving only Darlington and Kentucky as active Cup tracks at which he hasn’t won. The win was Stewart’s 45th, 15th all-time, in 467 Cup starts.
“Man, I’m just finally glad to win one here,” said Stewart, who had the fastest car in last year’s race but squandered his winning chances when he incurred a penalty for dragging an air wrench from his pit stall. “We were so close last year and had a dominant car.
“I’m not sure we had the dominant car (Sunday), but we had an awful fast Chevy. Just glad to finally, finally get one at Vegas. We have to win ourselves a Southern 500 (at Darlington Raceway) and we’ll have won at all the tracks we’re racing at right now.”
(Stewart apparently forgot Kentucky, which was added to the Cup schedule last year.)
Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards came home third through fifth, respectively. Biffle, who took over the series lead by 10 points over 11th-place finisher Kevin Harvick, has finished third in each of the three Cup races this season.
Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top 10.
Stewart took two tires during a pit stop under caution on Lap 204 and pulled out to a comfortable lead over McMurray. A caution for debris slowed the field for the fifth time on Lap 228, and Stewart came to the pits for fuel only.
Brad Keselowski and Bowyer remained on the track and led the field to green on Lap 234, but Stewart regained the top spot with a three-wide dive to the inside moments after Keselowski crossed the stripe.
Stewart pulled out to a one-second lead over Keselowski before Landon Cassill’s blown engine caused the sixth caution. As Stewart sped away after the restart on Lap 250, Keselowski’s fuel pickup failed, and the driver of the No. 2 Dodge took his car to the garage.
In fact, it was Stewart’s prowess on the restarts that proved the difference.
“Every time the caution came out, I’m like ‘Not again,’” Stewart said. “You wonder how many times you’re going to give them a chance at it on a restart there, and when are they’re going to be able to capitalize on us.
“But, that was our strong suit today. We were really strong on the restarts. Just proud of the Hendrick engine department; making great steam with it. That was the key to our restarts was the power that we had. We could go without spinning the tires, and we could get a really good lead into Turn 1 and just haul butt down the backstretch.”
Johnson agreed that the restarts settled the issue.
“They were awfully strong,” he said. “The last two restarts… second to the last restart, I just blew it. He got away from me. The next to the last start, I felt like I got a good one. He still cruised away.
“My only chance was to be at his outside through (Turns) 1 and 2. Didn’t have that opportunity. He had the lane at that point. I drove my guts out, but just didn’t get it done.”