Perhaps more amazing than Tony Stewart's first victory as an owner/driver was his victory celebration Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Actually, what was amazing was that Stewart could even manage a celebration at all, after using every trick in the book — including shutting down his engine entering turn one at the 2.5-mile triangular track — to save enough fuel to win the Pocono 500.
The win was Stewart's 34th in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, but his first in Cup competition since acquiring an ownership interest in Stewart-Haas Racing before the 2009 season. It is also the first Cup win by an owner/driver since Ricky Rudd won at Martinsville on 27 September 1998.
“He's doing a damn burnout!” Jeff Gordon's crew chief, Steve Letarte, said in amazement after Stewart began his victory donuts on the frontstretch.
Holding down his speed to the minimum needed to stay ahead of runner-up Carl Edwards, who also was saving fuel, Stewart crossed the finish line 2.004secs ahead of the #99 Ford. David Reutimann ran third, benefiting from late fuel problems for Jimmie Johnson, followed by Gordon - who capitalised on a key fuel-mileage play by Letarte - and Stewart's team-mate Ryan Newman.
Stewart, who increased his lead in the Cup standings to 71 points over Gordon, lost more than four seconds of a 6.8secs lead over Edwards in the final ten laps, but had enough in hand to ensure the victory.
“Breathe easy boys, we're gonna make it,” Stewart radioed to his crew as he rolled through the final corner, “God, I'm proud of you guys. You make me look like a genius in here.”
“We didn't tell you how to save gas,” crew chief Darian Grubb retorted.
Stewart did that on his own, and did so masterfully, as he took the #14 car to victory lane in a Cup race for the first time since 8 December 1968, in Montgomery, Alabama, when Bobby Allison beat Richard Petty to the finish line by four feet. Not that the #14 has run all of them, but the Pocono 500 was the 1329th Cup race since Allison's win.
Stewart became the fourth driver this season to win after being put to the back of the field - after Matt Kenseth (Daytona)< Kyle Busch (Las Vegas) and David Reutimann (Lowe's) - and did so in his back-up car after crashing the machine destined for pole in Saturday's practice.