KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Tony Stewart didn't have time for a debate. He had one last chance to grab the win at Kansas Speedway, and it came down to one decision: two tires or four?
The two-time series champion asked for two on the final pit stop of the Price Chopper 400 on Sunday, and crew chief Darian Grubb immediately agreed with the strategy. The rapid thinking got Stewart the race lead, and he held on over the final 26 laps for his fourth win of the season.
"He asked me what I thought, I kind of put my vote in, and he said it was exactly what he was thinking," Stewart said. "... We pretty much knew what we both needed."
What he needed was a win.
After a rocky start to Sprint Cup's Chase for the Championship, Stewart found himself in danger of Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson pulling away in just the third of 10 races.
Stewart went into the race fifth in the standings, 106 points behind leader Martin, and in a slump of five of six finishes outside the top 10.
"You're going to have to win races against these competitors," Grubb said.
The win moved Stewart up one spot in the points to fourth, and his deficit went from 106 points to 67 behind Martin.
Martin, the pole-sitter, finished seventh and maintained his lead in the standings. He's up 18 points over three-time defending series champion Johnson, who finished ninth.
"So many guys took two, and we took four," Johnson said. "There at the end, we were just trying to get some track position back, and I just didn't have the speed that I had. ... We hate to see guys we are racing in points ahead of us."
Martin held his lead, but things are tighter. There were three drivers within 100 points of him before the race, now the field has six within 103.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought out the final caution when an engine problem spilled oil.
The leaders went to pit road debating with their crew chiefs whether to take two or four tires on what was likely the final chance to gain track position.
Greg Biffle went in as the leader, while Stewart was second. Taking just two tires, Stewart raced off pit road into the lead, with Kasey Kahne and Johnson. Both took two tires.
Biffle, the first driver to take four tires, restarted in fourth and admitted to overruling crew chief Greg Erwin, who only wanted to take two tires.
"I know what I did was wrong," Biffle said.
Stewart took off on the restart with 26 laps to go, and all the drivers on four tires quickly sliced through the field. Jeff Gordon made up the most ground. He was closing in on Stewart but simply ran out of laps to catch him and settled for second. But Gordon cut his deficit from 122 points to 103.
"The big thing was not to drive the tires off," Stewart said. "We had a little left, but we didn't leave too much out there."
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
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From Sunday's Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway:
Winner's average speed:137.144 mph
Time of race:2 hours, 55 minutes, 13 seconds
Margin of victory:0.894 seconds
Caution flags:6 for 23 laps
Lead changes: 26 among 14 drivers
Lap leaders:Martin 1-11; Earnhardt Jr. 12-52; Stewart 53; Kenseth 54; Edwards 55; Truex 56-57; Sadler 58-59; Andretti 60; Keselowski 61; Johnson 62-70; Stewart 71; Biffle 72-90; Johnson 91; Biffle 92; Johnson 93; Biffle 94-101; Johnson 102-126; Stewart 127; Biffle 128-130; Johnson 131-147; Montoya 148; Biffle 149-201; Stewart 202-205; Hamlin 206; Ku.Busch 207-208; Biffle 209-237; Stewart 238-267
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Vettel keeps hopes up
SUZUKA, Japan - Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel led from start to finish to win Formula One's Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, reviving his title hopes. Vettel finished ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton. Drivers' championship leader Jenson Button of Brawn GP was eighth, a place below teammate Rubens Barrichello. Button's lead over Barrichello for the drivers' title was cut by one point to 14, with Vettel just two points further back. "It can still be done, and it's looking much better now," Vettel said of his chances for the title.
NHRA: Rain in Millington, Tenn., forced officials to postpone the Mid-South Nationals eliminations until today.
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Pepsi 500, 3 p.m. Sunday, Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, Calif. TV: Ch. 28