Tony Stewart has had chances to win this year. But bad breaks late in the going have cost him. Today, nothing was going to stop Big Orange. He broke a 20 race winless streak, which dated back to last season by winning the USG Sheetrock 400.
Stewart avoided controversy on the track but the same could not be said off the track. Since his wreck with Denny Hamlin at Daytona, Stewart had been the talk of the garage. His gripe with his teammate got so serious that team owner, Joe Gibbs had to hold a special conference with the pair before Saturday's Busch Series race. Stewart says he now knows why his boss is such a great football coach.
"The good part is, it was fairly short, because Joe can get long-winded sometimes," he said. "But it was a great meeting. That's Joe Gibbs' strength, he knows how to motivate people and he knows how to keep a team atmosphere."
It didn't hurt that Stewart's strongest competitor, Jimmie Johnson was forced out of the race when he blew a tire with 40 laps to go. Johnson's crash prompted the last set of pit stops for the leaders, most of whom only needed a splash of gas to make it to the checkers. On the restart, Matt Kenseth had one chance at Stewart but got loose while making the pass.
"I had that one shot at him, and I couldn't quite finish the pass," Kenseth said.
Joe Nemechek brought out the final caution of the day with 12 to go but Stewart got a great restart. Kenseth did not challenge and settled for second place. Carl Edwards was able to come home third, putting two Roush-Fenway cars in the top 3. Overall, it was a good day for Roush, especially considering how their weekend started and how their season has started.
"I think we've been working pretty hard, and we've been gaining some ground," Edwards said.
"I feel like we're still just a little bit off to be able to beat them every week, that's how I feel myself," Kenseth said. "But we're getting closer."
The same could not be said for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was running third with 58 laps to go when he was forced out of the race with a power steering issue. His teammate, Martin Truex Jr. was also a front runner most of the afternoon but he too made an early exit with engine problems. Rookie, Paul Menard also blew his engine and finished 43rd.
Even though they were shut out of victory lane for the fifth consecutive time, 3/4 of Hendrick Motorsports had another good race. Casey Mears, who sat on the pole, finished 5th, Jeff Gordon, the NEXTEL Cup points leader, finished 9th and Kyle Busch came home 13th.
The NEXTEL Cup Series is off next week. Stewart made it clear that he plans on enjoying the vacation.
"You have no idea how glad I am to have the week off," he said. "I'm taking this momentum on vacation. I've got a case of Schlitz that I fully intend on getting to the bottom of the cardboard box tonight, even if have to do it by myself."