Nascar Martinsville – Tony Stewart passed Jimmie Johnson on a restart with three laps to go Sunday and surged into contention for his third NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with three races remaining. Then, Stewart playfully called out points leader Carl Edwards in a duel to the finish.
“He better be worried. That’s all I’ve got to say,” Stewart said of Edwards in Victory Lane, a broad smile spreading across his face. “He’s not going to sleep for the next three weeks.” Edwards laughed when told of Stewart’s challenge.
The victory was the third for Stewart in the first seven races of the 10-race playoffs, and he was easily the leading benefactor as the points race was significantly jumbled. Stewart moved from 19 points behind leader Edwards and in fourth place to just eight points behind in second as several contenders got caught up in a season-high 18 caution flags.
Even Stewart had trouble, at one point having to apologize to race leader Denny Hamlin for racing him hard to stay on the lead lap. And that was with less than 20 laps to go. “I was pretty mad all day, but I was the only guy who didn’t get in a wreck with somebody, so I was kind of proud of that,” Stewart said, adding that his team told him not to be nice.
“I don’t think anybody has ever passed Jimmie Johnson on the outside,” he said, crediting crew chief Darian Grubb for making the right calls and adjustments all race long. “I don’t think we had the best race car today, by any means, but we had the most determined pit crew.”
“He’s wound up. He won the race. We’ll see what happens at Texas,” Edwards said after the race. “I told you guys I thought he was one of the guys that could win this race and be a guy that you’d have to beat for the championship, and I think he’s proving that right now. But yeah, we’ll have fun.
“We’ll go race hard. They’re gonna have to race us, too. I’m excited about the next three races.”
Jeff Gordon finished third, and saw plenty of mayhem all race long. Kevin Harvick finished fourth and moved into third in the points race, 21 behind Edwards. Hamlin was fourth, followed by Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. Johnson, who started the day seventh in points, moved into sixth with his second-place run, but is still 43 points off the lead in search of his sixth consecutive championship.