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Tony Stewart gambles, holds on for first Sprint Cup points victory as owner-driver

LONG POND, Pa. — All Tony Stewart could do the final laps at Pocono Raceway was use every trick available to stretch out his fuel and creep toward the finish line.

Like the gamble Stewart made to leave Joe Gibbs Racing and start his own team, the fuel-mileage call was the right one.

Stewart matched his win in the All-Star race with his first Sprint Cup points victory as a team owner Sunday, coming from the rear of the field in his backup car in the Pocono 500.

"We're just thankful we could make it," Stewart said.

He crossed the line on fumes, even as his own Stewart-Haas Racing operation seems to have plenty of fuel.

"It's easy when you've got the tools in place," Stewart said. "When you've got a car like we had (Sunday), you know that you've got a shot at it. It's just going to be a long day, and it's going to take a long time to get there."

Stewart needed time to reach the front of the 500-mile race because of a practice accident that forced him into his backup car and dropped him to the back of the pack.

"I'd hate to think I've got to screw up every week to win a race," Stewart said.

Crew chief Darian Grubb's late-race strategy worked, and Stewart became the first owner-driver to win a points race since Ricky Rudd at Martinsville in 1998.

Stewart made his last pit stop with 41 laps to go and figured he could drive the rest of the way without another break. He took the lead in the No. 14 Chevrolet with 37 laps left and roared to a six-second lead over Carl Edwards that gave him a crucial buffer down the stretch.

Edwards pushed Stewart and whittled the lead to about two seconds with inside 10 laps remaining, and the two-time Cup champion wasn't sure how much gas he had left.

With a lead in the points standings and a spot in the Chase for the Championship all but assured, Stewart could afford to take a risk.

Edwards was second, followed by Zephyrhills' David Reutimann and Jeff Gordon. Stewart's SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, was fifth.

Edwards, still looking for his first win of 2009, was convinced that Stewart would run out of fuel. And he was sure Stewart would need more time to become so dominant and lead the points standings like he is only 14 races into the season.

He was wrong on both counts.

"The things that he set out to accomplish this year were huge. I personally didn't believe he could get it done," Edwards said. "I'm extremely impressed with that. I can only imagine how good that feels to get that done."

The first Cup points race with double-file restarts finished without any confusion. The drivers meeting lasted nearly 30 minutes as final questions were answered on the new restart rules that line up the 43-car field after a yellow.

"I'm sure they'll refine it and make it better, but I think it worked out pretty good," Reutimann said.

So has Stewart's decision to bolt JGR to buy a 50 percent stake in his own team.

He has destroyed all expectations in his first season as owner and driver. It was the first points victory since he left JGR at the end of last year after 10 successful seasons.

"There will be a banner hanging in the shop that marks this day and time in history for the organization," Stewart said. "But you can't sit on it too long."

Tony Stewart gambles, holds on for first Sprint Cup points victory as owner-driver 06/07/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 7, 2009 10:40pm]
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