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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]
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Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, finishes in sixth place and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 3M Chevrolet SS, finishes in third place Sunday, April 19, 2015 in the rain delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing) and David Ragan (Joe Gibbs Racing) spin out during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, finishes in ninth place racing with Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS who finishes in eleventh place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet SS, finishes in eighth place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 TaxAct Chevrolet SS, finishes in 7th place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, finishes in sixth place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevrolet, Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 STP Ford, Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Ortho Ford, Trevor Bayne, driver of the #6 AdvoCare Ford, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Crew members work on the #25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, driven by Chase Elliott, after being involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, is involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, poses in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

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