12 March 2012
Stewart quick to return to winning ways
This latest caution had taken the race to a restart on lap 263 and a four lap shootout between Stewart and Johnson for the win. Stewart once again aced the restart and retained the lead into the first turn, but behind the leading duo the third-placed man Matt Kenseth took a hard hit against the wall down the backstretch while battling with Carl Edwards and it looked for a moment that the race was about to go into a green-white-chequered scenario. But Kenseth's car was off the racing line and the race officials were able to keep the track green, allowing the #14/#48 duel to run its course.
"Matt spun his tires a little bit and I got a run on him," said Edwards. "Then Greg and I went around him, and he ended up getting wrecked. I feel terrible."
"Carl just laid back and got by me three-wide, and then it just didn't seem like there was a lot of room getting into 1," explained Kenseth, who was classified in 22nd position. "Then I did get clear behind him and he just stopped in the middle of the corner. I don't really know what happened."
Kasey Kahne passing Kenseth on the outside was the final straw, sucking the #17 into the wall; Kahne's car also received damage in the incident and ended up in 19th place in the final classification.
Johnson had a run on Stewart coming out of turn 4, but Stewart had it covered. Johnson then tried running high up on the progressive banking through the turns of the remaining lap in the hope of slingshotting past for the lead - but Stewart had that covered, too. In fact, Stewart had it sown up: he crossed the line almost half a second up on Johnson, who could do nothing except enjoy the front row seat as the reigning Cup champion took the chequered flag.
It was Stewart's first win in 2012, and his first since the stunning run in the 2011 season finale at Homestead-Miami that had won him his third Cup championship. It was his 45th victory in 467 starts but remarkably his first win at Ls Vegas Motor Speedway in 14 attempts.
"That was the great thing about our race car: I think we were hands-down the strongest car on restarts of getting to turn 1 from the restart point," said a beaming Stewart in victory lane.
Even so, Stewart admitted that it had been hard work and all rather nerve wracking with so many late cautions: "Every time the caution came out, you cringed knowing you were giving them another opportunity to take a shot,” he said. “It seemed like everybody got their turn at it, just a different person on each restart that we had to hold off."
“I just blew it ... He got away from me," was Johnson's own verdict on the final laps. "The next to the last start, I felt like I got a good one and he still cruised away," he said, adding: "I drove my guts out, but just didn't get it done."
Behind Johnson, Greg Biffle was never far from the front and had a solid and largely uneventful run to third place, which puts him to the top of the Sprint Cup points championship 10pts ahead of Kevin Harvick, after former championship front-runner Denny Hamlin slumped back to third place after a lacklustre run at Vegas that even saw him lapped by the leaders during one of the lengthier green flag spells.
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