For the second time in six days, Stewart’s team calculated his final tank of gas to finish on fumes. He passed Clint Bowyer’s gas-starved car coming to the white flag and he kept the engine running all the way to the finish line to remain undefeated in the Chase for the Championship.
Stewart stalked Bowyer for 30 laps until his car ran out 200 yards short of the white flag. Oddly enough, it was the same place Stewart ran out a year ago with Bowyer inheriting the win.
“I know exactly how he feels right now,” Stewart said. “That’s not the way I want to win it, but we’re in the Chase and we want to get everything we can. I saw him slow down on the back and I thought, ‘Oh no, are you kidding me?’
“The last two weeks we’ve been good on fuel mileage.”
Stewart started the playoffs two races ago as one of two drivers without a win. Now he leads the Chase standings by seven points over Kevin Harvick heading to next Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway.
“You don’t want to win them that way; you don’t want to lose them that way,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t even out. I’ll bet I’ve only won 10 percent of (the gambles).”
Crew chief Darian Grubb figured Stewart had enough gas to go two extra laps if needed. But just to be sure, he asked his driver to coast through the turns and down the straightaways.
With 10 laps to go, Grubb turned his driver loose. Bowyer had no option but to pick up his pace to stay in front of Stewart. His gamble came up one mile short.
Everyone expected the race to end with drivers gambling on fuel. That strategy played out with a few making it on fumes, while others ran out. Among those who either stopped for gas or ran out were: Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman. Dale Earnhardt Jr., blew a tire on the final lap to give away a top-10 finish.
Brad Keselowski coasted to second place, while Biffle was at half-speed as he finished third.
“I just think every race has its own personality,” Keselowski said. “With this particular car and the way it’s designed, it’s going to lean towards this personality a little bit more.
“It doesn’t bother me. I don’t think it’s bad racing personally. I know there are people that do.”
Although Biffle finished third, he’s still not a fan of the driver who saves the most gas, not the driver who goes the fastest, winning both playoff races.
“Wish it wasn’t a fuel mileage race,” he said. “Think we had a fast enough car to catch the 33 (Bowyer) and 14 (Stewart) possibly and race with them.”
Jeff Gordon led a race-best 78 laps but he slowed down into conservation mode in the final 50 laps. He wound up fourth.
The rest of the top 10 were: Brian Vickers in fifth, Matt Kenseth in sixth, David Ragan in seventh, Carl Edwards in eighth, Juan Pablo Montoya in ninth and Regan Smith in 10th.
Chase contenders included: Kyle Busch in 11th, Harvick in 12th, Earnhardt in 17th, Jimmie Johnson in 18th, Kurt Busch in 22nd, Newman in 25th and Hamlin in 29th.
Stewart barely qualified for the Chase. But once the playoffs started, his team has come out fast Ð even if they’ve been coasting at the finish.
“We got eight long weeks to go,” he said. “It’s way too early to count chickens now.”