NASCAR » 31 October 2011
Stewart steals win, Edwards dodges disaster
Once it was time for the restart, there was nothing that Johnson could do to stop Stewart taking over the leap and claiming the win. "I just could not get away from him on the restart ... Tony hung on tough on the outside there and I just couldn't bring myself to lean on him and move him out of the way with where he is in the points. I just kind of raced him clean and then he got around on the outside and got in front of us.
"Jeff probably would have won the race if I would have done it," Johnson added. "I couldn't bring myself to do that. He got by. I tried to be smart. That's typically how I race guys. I don't run over people to get positions."
By the time the fast and furious events of the day were complete, the sun was already low in the sky and dusk beginning to creep in as the clock ticked past 6pm. But they had made it, despite a total of 103 laps run under caution during the day, and it had been Tony Stewart who had stayed out of trouble and run consistently and intelligently enough to be in the lead at the only moment it truly mattered - the finish line.
It was Stewart's third win at Martinsville but his first since the spring of 2006; it's his 42nd Cup win in 461 starts and his third of 2011, all of which have come in the post-season Chase races which is why he's now in second place in the standings just 8pts off the leader, Carl Edwards.
"I don't know anybody that doesn't enjoy being in the middle of it with three weeks to go. It's a great feeling," said Stewart after the race. "You work hard all year to try to be in this position. When you start the Chase off with ten races to go, a lot can happen ... There were guys that may have had their chances taken away today."
Jeff Gordon had lost his Chase hopes long before this weekend, and a top three at Martinsville despite his early crash didn't do anything to change that reality. "We came home third. It was a nice top five for us," he said. "It was pretty fun coming up through there and getting up to the front and leading. It just seemed like the last couple of runs just didn't quite go our way ... We couldn't get into a rhythm with the race, couldn't get it going.
"Seemed like guys were ticked off at one another, driving over their heads, whatever it may be," he continued. "I think it was just one of those crazy days. I don't know. You can't always explain it. Usually, Martinsville does contribute towards that ... Obviously, the #83 had that throughout the whole race!"
Kevin Harvick's fourth place in the race means that he's clawed his way back from the edge of falling out of Chase contention, but he's still 21pts off Edwards with just three races remaining in the season. Harvick's destiny is now largely out of his hands and he just has to hope for disaster to hit Edwards and Stewart: as Martinsville showed, it can absolutely happen.
"It was definitely a battle, everybody was driving hard - that is what you are supposed to do here at Martinsville," said Harvick later. "Just the top [racing line] was tough for me to get going on the restarts. The #14 was really the only one that could make any ground on the restarts and that is what won him the race."
Brad Keselowski is in fourth place in the championship, but he was not happy with events at the end of Martinsville. He spun at the final restart after Earnhardt bumped Hamlin into him, but there was no caution which meant he dropped out of the top ten and ended up 27pts off Edwards in the championship. "That's racing on these short tracks," he said. "At the end we just didn't catch a break. We ended up on the outside for the last few restarts and that wasn't the place to be. That's just this style of racing. You can't control your own fate."
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