After leading the most laps in the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the second straight year, 2011 Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart finally tamed a track that has given him trouble, defeating Jimmie Johnson on a lap 263 restart to win. With his 45th victory, Stewart moves to seventh in points as the Sprint Cup Series goes to the bullring at Bristol next Sunday.
Stewart dominated the 2011 race and lost due to a pit miscue. After running well at Daytona and Phoenix, Stewart had no results to show for those solid runs. Johnson crashed in final practice on Saturday and had to start at the back of the field with a backup car.
Kasey Kahne in the Farmers Insurance Chevy started on pole and Kyle Busch in the M&M’s Toyota was supposed to be on the outside pole at his home racetrack. Busch, like Johnson, crashed in the final practice and had to bring out a backup car to race Sunday.
Early on, NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took off in his National Guard Chevy, leading 70 of the first 73 laps in his Hendrick Motorsports machine but fell back due to pit strategy.
Earnhardt’s teammate Johnson, and Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth took over up front and swapped the lead until Stewart took charge at lap 134 of 267 scheduled. From there, the man known as Smoke went off and led the race with little challenge. However, multiple late restarts tested the defending champion.
A lap 234 restart saw Stewart third, behind Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer, who both stayed out but that advantage lasted to turn one, where Stewart made a three-wide move to pass both drivers. Further cautions, caused by Kurt and Kyle Busch, for a wreck and spin respectively made Stewart earn his first victory at Vegas.
The restarts saw Stewart get the advantage on Keselowski and Johnson, to get that victory, his first with new crew chief Steve Addington. Addington, coming from Penske Racing and Kurt Busch, was replacing Darian Grubb on the 14 pit box for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012.
Greg Biffle continued his consistent start to 2012 by finishing third and taking the points lead. Stewart’s teammate and employee, Ryan Newman, finished fourth and defending race champion Carl Edwards finished fifth. Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne and Earnhardt, Jr. rounded out the top ten.