Be afraid, NASCAR drivers. Be very, very afraid.
Right up until about last September, the knocks on Tony Stewart were piling up. His best days were behind him. He couldn't juggle both ownership and driving. He was scoring points against the media but not on the track.
Amazing how one championship changes everything, doesn't it? And yet the doubts still persisted ...
He just got hot at the right time. He made a mistake ditching his championship crew chief. He can't win before the weather turns warm. He can't win at Vegas.
Hey, guess what? Smoke's done all this and more in the last few races, and Sunday's run at the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas affirmed that we write off Tony Stewart at our peril.
Stewart wasn't the best car early — that honor belonged to none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. — but Smoke absolutely dominated on restarts, beating both Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson off the line after pulling off an amazing three-wide move to take the lead near the race's midpoint.
"That's what they pay me to do!" he crowed to his crew after the maneuver, which put him at the front of the pack for the remainder of the day.
Only Johnson could mount any kind of challenge, but even Five-Time's attempt at running down Stewart faded long before the checkers flew. "Man, I want to win," Johnson said. "But Tony really got away on those restarts."
"We were so strong on restarts," Stewart agreed before thanking a grocery list of sponsors, "especially the Hendrick engine department and chassis department. That was the key to the race."
The win gives Stewart all kinds of momentum that he hadn't been able to gather up during a disappointing Daytona run and a frustrating Phoenix race in which his car wouldn't restart. Add to that an "anything you can do, I can do better" shot right back at former crew chief Darian Grubb, who won last week with Denny Hamlin, plus the fact that this is his first victory at Vegas, and you've got one heck of a fine afternoon for Smoke. Darlington and Kentucky are now the only tracks at which he hasn't won.
The win vaulted Stewart up seven spots in the standings, seating him at eighth with a win in his pocket earlier than at any time in his career. Clearly, the good times aren't yet done for Smoke.
- Tony Stewart
- Jimmie Johnson