By Brian Willwerth
LOUDON, NH – What a difference a couple of weeks makes.
Earlier this month, there was a chance Tony Stewart would not even make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Now, two races into the sport’s playoff, one of NASCAR’s more popular drivers is leading the way.
Stewart drove his #14 car to victory lane for the second race in a row Sunday afternoon, taking the checkered flag when Clint Bowyer ran out of fuel with about two laps to go. It was a reversal of déjà vu: the exact opposite thing happened to these two drivers in last fall’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“We may not have been the best car at the end, I mean Clint was just a tick better than us,” said Stewart, who said he didn’t know that Bowyer was short on fuel.
This was a very clean race with only three cautions. While there was passing, most of it was not for the lead. Whoever was leading the race did so for long stretches at a time. Pole-sitter Ryan Newman led the early stages. Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin all took turns out front. Stewart did not lead until the final two laps. When Bowyer’s #33 car ran out of gas, Stewart said ‘thank you very much,’ and that was that.
Brad Keselowski continued his torrid second half of the season with a second-place finish. Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers rounded out the top five. Bowyer, who nearly won this race, ended up 26th.
There are still eight races remaining in the Chase. Stewart is not taking anything for granted.
“We hope the next eight weeks go this way,” he said. “You look at guys that are in the back half of the Chase right now… there are guys that a lot of people expected to be in the top five or top three in the points right now and it shows that one or two bad days can put you in a bad spot pretty quick.”
THE WRECK WRAP: Carl Edwards sent Matt Kenseth for a spin-o-rama in Turn 2. This is one teammate spun out the other. Both drivers stayed in the race, and in fact, ended up with Top-10 finishes.
NEXT WEEK: We go from the Magic Mile at Loudon to the Monster Mile at Dover. Stewart leads Kevin Harvick by 7 points, Keselowski by 11 and Edwards by 14. The rest of the Chasers are further back.