Tony Stewart's dream season continued unabated in Monday's rain-delayed Heluva Good! at the Glen when, after a major adjustment early in the race to get the #14 Chevrolet handling he wanted, the Cup Series points leader held off Marcos Ambrose during a 17-lap run to the finish.
Stewart crossed the finish line 2.969secs ahead of the Australian road-course ace to claim his fifth victory at Watkins Glen International, his third of the season and the 36th of his Cup career. As a result, Stewart opened his lead in the series standings to 260 points over polesitter Jimmie Johnson, who finished twelfth after spinning off in turn one late in the race.
The second-place finish was Ambrose's best to date in the Cup series, improving by one position over his results at the Glen last year and at Infineon Raceway in June, and added to his second Nationwide win at the Glen on Saturday. Carl Edwards came home third after a strategic run from the 33rd starting position.
Kyle Busch ran fourth and, though he remained 13th in the Cup standings, trimmed his deficit in points to twelfth - now occupied by 14th-place finisher Matt Kenseth - from 101 points to 58 with four races remaining before the field for the twelve-driver Chase is set on 12 September at Richmond.
From Stewart's point of view, making changes to the car under caution on lap 19 was a critical juncture in the race.
“Our crew did an awesome job on the pit-stop,” he said, having led the last 24 laps after outbraking Busch into turn one after a restart on lap 67, “We had asked for a lot of changes there - and a lot of lengthy changes. Our guys did a great job of getting us in and out of the pits, and we never lost very much track position, so we were able to make it up. We had a fast car today.”
Stewart's car was fast enough to withstand pressure from Ambrose, who dogged him until the final two laps, when the driver of the #47 Toyota backed off to conserve fuel.
“I was watching him,” said Stewart, who will clinch a spot in the Chase when he takes the green flag at Michigan on Sunday, “There were parts of the track where we were stronger than he was and parts where he was stronger than us. But I think we were stronger in the parts of the track that we needed to be to hold him off, if he got any closer.”
Ambrose said the set-up of his car wasn't quite right for a track that became hotter and slicker on Monday, after rain on Sunday washed the rubber from the racing surface.
“We missed it just a little bit,” said Ambrose, who was trying to complete a double at the Glen after winning Saturday's Nationwide Series race, “I thought our car in practice on Saturday was better than what we had today.