Even before the green flag dropped on Sunday's Pocono 500 Tony Stewart made the pundits go from asking whether he would ever win again to asking when he was likely to win but, post-race, the next question might very well be 'will Tony Stewart ever stop winning?'.
Having left the comfy confines of Joe Gibbs Racing after a ten-year run that produced 33 Cup wins and two championships to become an owner/driver with Stewart-Haas Racing, many predicted that Stewart would struggle before he tasted success – if he found any success at all – for the dual role of driver/owner hadn't borne fruit of any substance since Ricky Rudd won a Cup race at Martinsville in 1998.
But, with a handful of top ten finishes early in the year, followed by top fives that included three second-place results, it became apparent that conventional thinking did not apply to the unconventional Stewart, who duly ended the 375-race run that had grown since Rudd's victory by putting the #14 Chevy into Victory Lane at Pocono courtesy of a mix of guile and strategy.
The multi-tasking Cup Series veteran not only won, however, but ended the winless streak for owner/drivers in impressive fashion.
When qualifying was washed out on Friday, Stewart was awarded the pole thanks to his recently-acquired first place in the points race. Second place at Dover a week previously had made 'Smoke' the first owner/driver to sit atop the points since Alan Kulwicki in November 1992, ending a 556-race span, but the pole position went away after Saturday morning's first practice session at Pocono when Stewart spun his car at the 'tunnel turn'.
As the nose of his Chevy slid through the infield grass, it was gouged so badly by divots that Stewart was forced to a back-up car, and that meant that, instead of starting first in the 43-car field, he would start last.
It seemed of little matter, however, as Stewart cracked the top ten before 50 laps were completed and, with a simialr distance remaining, he was second only to Carl Edwards. That's where things got really interesting....
When the yellow caution flag waved for the final time, for debris on lap 159, it set the stage for a fuel mileage race. Some teams were cutting it incredibly close, others knew they had no chance - but Stewart and crew chief Darian Grubb were not among the latter group.
The duo calculated that, with smart driving and sharp fuel economy, they could go the distance. Making their decision somewhat easier was their pit crew's quick work, as the #14 team serviced Stewart's car faster than the crew of Edwards, getting him off pit-road to take the lead when the green flag dropped on lap 166.