After failing to finish better than ninth in his previous six races, Tony Stewart re-emerged as a factor in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a victory in Sunday's Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Stewart, who led the series through the first 26 races leading up to the Chase, beat Jeff Gordon to the finish line by .894 seconds to trim 39 points from his deficit to Chase leader Mark Martin, who ran seventh. With four victories this season, Stewart is fourth in the standings, 67 points behind Martin.
Crew chief Darian Grubb's two-tyre call on the final pit stop of the afternoon, under caution on lap 238 of 267, put Stewart's #14 Chevrolet out front for a restart on lap 242. In the closing laps, Stewart held off Gordon, who took four tyres on the stop and charged from sixth to second in the final 26 laps.
“Darian — you don't question him when he makes a call,” Stewart said. “You know it's the right thing to do, and then you go from there. The big thing was just not driving the tyres off the thing, in case we got a (late) caution and a green-white-chequer. We had a little bit left, but we didn't leave too much out there.
“We got two tyres earlier and were able to go really quick on 'em, so it was pretty much, I think in our opinion, a no-brainer what to do there. The guys who took four never could gain the track position back. We had a really good car on two tyres, and Darian and the guys on the pit crew are the ones that got us the win. They got us track position, and I was able to pick which line I wanted on the restart, and that won us the race.”
Three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson restarted third on two tires on lap 242 but faded to ninth at the finish. Johnson is second in the Chase standings, trailing Martin by 18 points.
Greg Biffle opened a lead of as many as nine seconds before NASCAR called the sixth and final caution on Lap 236 because of fluid on the track, but Biffle overruled crew chief Greg Erwin and opted for four tyres — instead of the two Erwin preferred — before the final restart.
Biffle restarted fourth and finished third. Juan Pablo Montoya came home fourth, his third straight top-four finish in three Chase races, and trails Martin by 51 points. Denny Hamlin ran fifth and Kasey Kahne sixth, as Chase drivers grabbed the top seven positions and ten of the top eleven.
Despite fighting an ill-handling car to start the race, Gordon also gained ground on Martin, moving up one position to seventh in the standings.
“I started really running out of steam towards the end, with the tyres,” said Gordon, who trails Martin by 103 points. “I had just used them up so much trying to catch him. … We were really far off when this race started. I thought there's no way we'll ever finish second. … We just kept tuning on it.”