NASCAR » 12 March 2012
Stewart quick to return to winning ways
Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top six, while Jamie McMurray's eighth place for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing was particularly commendable and noteworthy considering he'd been as sick as a dog all day.
"He showed up this morning and he was sick. I don't think he slept last night. He hasn't eaten," said McMurray's crew chief, Kevin 'Bono' Manion, after the event. "For Jamie to come through like he did for us today was really big like he didn't want to talk on the radio and you know when you're not feeling good, you don't want nothing. And so, he could barely talk after the race. He just had to go, you know?"
Early race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been left frustrated and finished in tenth place after never managing to re-find that early strong performance once he'd dropped away from the front during the second round of pit stops. He was especially annoyed with Mark Martin, until last year his team mate at Hendrick Motorsports, over what he saw as a breach of good racing manners that ended up with the two making contact.
"To me, personally, there is an unwritten etiquette that when the guy is running the top even if you are clearing him or passing him ... you stay low," he explained. "Don't knock a half second off my lap time being a jerk about it. Stay low. You are going to get it in the next corner and the position is going to be yours. Don't pull up in front of somebody when they are going to come off the corner ten miles an hour faster."
While insisting that "I don't have a problem with Mark and have so much respect for him," Earnhardt admitted that the incident has been the final straw for him near the end of a disappointing race after such a strong start earlier in the afternoon. A few laps later - just 25 laps from the end - Earnhardt ended up making contact with the back of Martin's car and sending the #55 into the wall.
"I didn't really mean to put him in the wall but from the cosmetic standpoint it didn't look like it hurt his car," said Earnhardt. "I felt like I was pretty frustrated at the moment before that happened, and that just kind of really sent me over the edge there.
"We should have finished better than we did today and I was just frustrated at that point," he added. "I am sure he feels a different way about it but I think we definitely disagreed right there at that moment."
Martin left the speedway without commenting on the incident, while in victory lane Tony Stewart was celebrating victory.
An early win in 2012 seemed an especially important statement for Stewart to make, given the attention to his controversial decision to ditch his crew chief Darian Grubb with whom he won his 2011 Cup title. Grubb was back in victory lane last weekend at Phoenix with new charge Denny Hamlin leading to renewed chatter that Stewart had made a bad and hasty move, but victory in Las Vegas firmly puts Stewart's new partnership with Steve Addington on the map and answers all the doubters.
"You guys know I never worry about what everybody else says anyway," said Stewart, insisting that the chatter over his crew chief decision never affected him. "I'd like to think over 32 years of racing we've made some pretty decent decisions over that period of time," but admitted that "It was a tough decision to leave with Darian.
"From day one we told Steve that we had an awesome scenario at the end of the year, winning the championship," stewart continued. "I guess it's easy for us to not feel that pressure from our side. You understand why the pressure that Steve puts the pressure on himself in that scenario. We told him from day one we're going to go have fun, race hard, take what it gives us.
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