Friday, December 15, 2017
Sports

Stewart takes NASCAR Sprint Cup win at Dover

DOVER, Del. — With one big move, Tony Stewart put Juan Montoya and a sluggish season well behind him.

After a mundane start, Stewart is back in Victory Lane — and in the thick of Chase for the Championship contention.

Stewart's outside pass on Montoya with three laps left won Sunday's FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway and snapped a 30-race winless streak.

"Our guys at our shop have been digging," Stewart said. "None of these guys get down. We have been down, but they haven't gotten down. That is what carries you to days like (Sunday)."

Stewart was stuck in 20th in the Sprint Cup standings and had no top-five finishes before Sunday, and he hadn't won on the concrete mile track since sweeping both races in 2000.

"It's been such a tough year," he said.

Stewart, who co-owns his Stewart-Haas team, stoutly defended crew chief Steve Addington's performance and thanked Hendrick Motorsports for supplying engines.

He also knows their work is far from finished.

"We realize this could put the (No.) 14 team in contention to make the Chase," he said. "That's not good enough."

He wants not only to make the 12-driver field but know he's a top contender for a fourth championship. His 48th win in NASCAR's top series pushed him to 16th in points and, halfway through the regular season, put him in one of two wild-card spots for drivers 11th to 20th in the standings. Stewart is the only driver in those spots with a win.

"It's been very hard when you have the start of the season that we had," Stewart said. "You start questioning, you start doubting, you start looking for answers that you don't have the knowledge to diagnose. That makes you feel very helpless at times."

Seven-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson appeared to have the car to beat, but he jumped a restart with 19 laps left and had to serve a pass-through penalty. Johnson argued over the radio and stayed on the track before he hit pit road.

With Johnson out of the picture, Montoya and Stewart battled for the lead to the end.

Jeff Gordon was third, followed by Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 150 laps, and Brad Keselowski. NASCAR said Kese­lowski, the reigning series champ, failed postrace inspection because the front of his No. 2 Ford was too low. This was crew chief Paul Wolfe's first race back after a two-race suspension for unapproved parts.

Stewart tested at Dover and hoped that would help at a track where he hadn't finished better than 20th in his previous four races.

Montoya's only two career Cup victories are on road courses. He tried to play the spoiler after Johnson's penalty but didn't have enough to hold off a hard-charging Stewart.

"The car was a little bit too much of a handful at the end," Montoya said. "We tried. I think it was too hot on the tires the run before and our left tires were completely gone."

Johnson, still first in points, finished 17th. Tampa's Aric Almirola was 18th, one lap down, and is 12th in points. David Reutimann of Zephyrhills was 26th.

Few drivers run as well deep into the season as Stewart. It might be time for him to get rolling again.

"It's not a fix-all for what we've got going on," Addington said. "It's a step in the right direction."

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