Las Vegas • Timing the restart perfectly, Tony Stewart dived to the edge of the apron and ducked under the two cars in front of him.
With one bold move, the defending Sprint Cup champion was on his way to a redemptive win.
Stewart made a three-wide pass on a late restart and held off Jimmie Johnson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, winning at a track that was the site of his biggest disappointment last season.
“We had to wait 365 days for a shot at it again,” Stewart said. “I might not have been so mad on the airplane had I known I was going to win a year later.”
Stewart came back to Las Vegas with a new crew chief and the hope of having a little better luck than he had a year ago, when a pit mishap spoiled a chance at victory with what he believed to be the best car in the field.
With Steve Addington calling the shots from the pit box, Stewart again had a good car in his return trip to the desert, uncatchable on the restarts and good enough to hold off Johnson, Greg Biffle and anyone else who tried to track him down.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a car that fast,” said Biffle, who finished third. “On the restarts, I’ve just never seen a car driving off like that.”
Stewart got the lead with a did-he-just-do-that move with 34 laps to go in the 400-mile race.
Coming around turn 4 to the start/finish line, Stewart charged up behind Brad Keselowski and timed it just right to dip below him on the apron. He zipped to the front and stayed there, pulling away on three more less-thrilling restarts over the final 17 laps.
It was his sixth win in the past 13 Sprint Cup races and first on the 1.5-mile tri-oval not far from the bright lights of the The Strip.
“We almost got too good a restart because I got such a good run on Brad, I almost got there too quick,” Stewart said. “If we’d have got there a foot earlier, we’d have had to check up and probably wouldn’t get a run and get underneath him like that.”
Johnson had to break out a backup car after a crash in practice on Saturday, sending him to the back of the field. He didn’t take long to get to the front, though, challenging Matt Kenseth for the lead by lap 83.
Johnson, who has never won in a backup car, overtook Kenseth 16 laps later and stayed there until Stewart beat him on a restart on lap 134. The five-time Sprint Cup champion stayed within range and was third coming out of a caution with 17 laps, then quickly passed Biffle for second.
Two more cautions caused by the Busch brothers followed, but Johnson couldn’t keep up with Stewart on the restarts.
“I drove my guts out, but just didn’t get it done,” Johnson said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated the early part of the race, leading 70 of the first 73 laps, but he faded and finished 10th.
Storylines Smoke rises in Las Vegas
R Tony Stewart takes the lead with about 30 laps remaining and holds off Jimmie Johnson for the win.
• Stewart wins a year after pit-road errors cost him a victory at Las Vegas.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads 70 of the first 73 laps but drops back after taking four tires during a caution and finishes 10th.