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Stewart escapes to Martinsville win.

Tony Stewart timed his final restart perfectly and came away with his first Nextel Cup win of the year in a typically brutal short track encounter at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.

The defending series champion finally opened his 2006 win account at the sixth time of asking, after leading nearly 300 of the 50 laps that made up the DirecTV 500 and steering clear of his nearest pursuers over a final three lap dash to the chequered flag.

After trading paint several times with polesitter Jimmie Johnson in the final 100 laps, Stewart finally got ahead of his main nemesis on lap 473 after a race long tussle.

Johnson continually used his ideally placed pit stall to good use, winning the race off pit road on all but a couple of occasions to lead a total of 195 laps but with the rear of his #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet gradually losing grip, the 2006 Daytona 500 winner faded somewhat in the final 30 laps.

The final run to the chequered flag was punctuated by two late cautions, the 15th and 16th of the day that resulted in all but a handful of the final ten laps running under green, spoiling what was building towards a nail biting crescendo. The second of those cautions, caused when Matt Kenseth's brake-less #17 Roush Racing slammed the outside wall in turn one, resulted in NASCAR throwing the red flag to clear up the oil from Kenseth's crumpled car and leaving the three lap shootout.

On the restart Stewart led Hendrick trio Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Kyle Busch but a combination of a perfectly timed jump and a slip by Gordon on the oil dry left in the wake of Kenseth's crash gave the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing driver all the room he needed to make the decisive getaway.

Gordon was not too displeased with second place after suffering a puncture on lap 90 and falling to 25th. Although Gordon's subsequent fight back took all of 400 laps, he made his recovery while avoiding the many pitfalls associated with racing in close quarters on the flat half-mile Martinsville oval. The four-times champion finally passed teammate Johnson on lap 483 and may have had something for Stewart had the final 20 laps run without further interruption.

Johnson held on to third, retaking the points lead in the process but after having all the pit road cards stacked in his favour, he will have been disappointed not to have taken the win. Johnson's third place came under increasing pressure in the final three laps from teammate Busch, although the driver of the #5 Chevrolet would fall victim to a charging Dale Earnhardt Jr on the final corner.

Earnhardt Jr's drive to fourth was stirring after he sustained heavy front end damage to his #8 DEI Chevrolet on the second lap of the race when he got caught up in the biggest crash of the day in turn one. Despite having the entire right front corner removed Earnhardt Jr was still able to motor back through the field from as low as 42nd to fourth when, on lap 316, he found Ryan Newman chopping across the front of his already damaged machine, nudging him into the inside wall in turn four.



Related Pictures

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Tony Stewart - Home Depot/Joe Gibbs Chevrolet    [pic credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images]
Jeff Gordon - DuPont/Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet   [pic credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images]
Jimmie Johnson addresses the media in Las Vegas. [Pic Credit Todd Warshaw/Getty Images]
Stewart-Haas Racing team co-owner Gene Haas (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Stewart-Haas Racing team co-owner Gene Haas (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, lead the field past the green flag after the initial caution ended during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, lead the field past the green flag after the initial caution ended during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, drives in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Doors / Menards Toyota, poses in Victory Lane with the trophy after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Doors / Menards Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Gray Gaulding, driver of the #20 Gemini Southern / Krispy Kreme Chevrolet, is involved in an on track incident with Brandon Jones, driver of the #33 EXIDE Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #54 Toyota No. 1 For Everyone Sales Event Toyota, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, races Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, is hit by Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, as he pulls into his pit box during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Doors / Menards Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS races to a third-place finish Sunday, March 30, 2014 during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Racing Chevrolet SS won the race and Jimmie Johnson driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS finished second. (Photo by HHP/Garry Eller for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Racing Chevrolet SS gets the chequered flag as he crosses the finish line Sunday, March 30, 2014, winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. Chevrolet finished first, second and third in the race. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

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