Tony Stewart wins NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. — There isn't a bad time for a first win of the season.

Visiting Victory Lane as you are about to compete for another NASCAR Sprint Cup series championship can't hurt, either.

Tony Stewart held off Carl Edwards to win Sunday night's Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and earn his first win of the season and 38th of his Cup career.

It was his first win since Oct. 4 at Kansas.

The victory comes just as the Chase for the Championship is set to begin in two weeks.

The top 10 in points have clinched spots in NASCAR's 12-driver, 10-race playoff format. Leader Kevin Harvick and second-place Jeff Gordon had already clinched Chase spots coming in.

Joining them Sunday night were Stewart, Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch.

Stewart gains 10 bonus points for the Chase and will now have a points advantage over at least five other drivers in the Chase who do not have a win yet.

"I've never been so happy to win a race in my life," Stewart said. "It's been a while. We definitely earned this one.

"I forgot what it was like, it's been so long. It felt like it's been an eternity since I won."

Edwards was not unhappy with second.

"Tony just has such a fast car at the end, but we're back," Edwards told ESPN afterward. "I know we don't look as good as we did in 2008, but we're better prepared to race for the championship."

Pole-sitter Hamlin took control early, leading 74 of the first 140 laps, including a 133-lap green-flag run to start the race.

The only other car capable of challenging in the first half was Stewart, who traded the lead 10 times with Hamlin.

Hamlin's run was cut short, however, when his engine blew up on Lap 144 and he spun down the frontstretch to bring out the race's second caution.

During pit stops under caution, Stewart retook the lead and on the restart on Lap 152, he was out front followed by Edwards, Martin Truex, Johnson and Kasey Kahne.

A lap was not completed yet when Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle made contact to start an accident that also collected Elliott Sadler. On the restart on Lap 162, Stewart continued to hold the lead but was quickly overtaken by Johnson.

David Ragan spun on the backstretch on Lap 201 to bring out the fourth caution. All of the lead-lap cars pitted for fuel and tires with Stewart coming off pit road first followed by Johnson, Edwards, Gordon and Kyle Busch.

The race remained green and some in the field were beginning a round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 253 when Kevin Harvick blew a left-front tire to bring out the fifth caution of the race.

After the race leaders pitted for fuel and tires, Edwards took over the race lead on the restart on Lap 264, followed by Stewart, Kyle Busch, Juan Montoya and Truex. Gordon went to the pits a second time to top off on fuel in hopes of making a run to the finish without another stop.

Scott Speed's engine blew on Lap 265 to bring out another caution. Kurt Busch and Gordon remained on the track while the rest of the lead-lap cars went in for tires and fuel.

On the restart on Lap 275, Kurt Busch was the leader, followed by Gordon, Truex, Kyle Busch, Edwards and Kahne.

Kahne, Johnson and Edwards spent several laps battling three-wide for the lead until another caution was displayed on Lap 296 when Brad Keselowski spun.

All of the lead-lap cars elected to pit, with Edwards coming off pit road first and taking the lead, followed by Stewart, Kahne, Johnson and Kurt Busch. The race returned to green on Lap 301.

While battling with Newman, Kahne went low on the track and made contact with Kurt Busch. Kahne suffered some damage to his No. 9 Ford and Stewart moved into the lead. Debris from Kahne's run-in ended up bringing out a caution on Lap 303.

Stewart remained the leader on the restart on Lap 308, followed by Edwards, Johnson, Newman and Kurt Busch.

Tony Stewart wins NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta 09/06/10 [Last modified: Monday, September 6, 2010 1:35am]

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