Stewart needs just 1 bump for victory
The defending Cup champ climbs the fence to celebrate his run past Gordon and Johnson.
By wire services
Published April 3, 2006
MARTINSVILLE, Va. - It took a little bump-and-run for Tony Stewart to wrestle the lead from Jimmie Johnson and win the DirecTV 500 at Martinsville Speedway. But unlike last week's race-ending bumping and wrecking involving Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch at Bristol Motor Speedway, Stewart's victory was due to a little less bumping and a lot more running.
Stewart used the front bumper of his No.20 Chevrolet to nudge Johnson from the top spot with 27 laps to go. Then he outran Gordon, who passed Johnson but never got close enough to try to put a race-winning bump on Stewart.
Stewart said his move was acceptable on a tight, short oval like Martinsville.
"We didn't turn (Johnson) around. We didn't spin him out," Stewart said. "We just got the position we were after."
Johnson reluctantly agreed, although he did say Stewart hit him hard enough to momentarily lift the rear wheels of his No. 48 Chevrolet.
"I have to give (Stewart) credit," Johnson said. "He did it in a way that didn't wreck me."
The victory, Stewart's second at Martinsville, was the first in 20 races for the defending Nextel Cup point champion and his 25th overall in 254 starts.
He renewed a personal tradition - climbing the fence near the flag stand.
"I'm still too old and still too fat," said the squat, 34-year-old Stewart, who celebrated with a postrace hot dog. "As long as those people keep cheering like they did when I get up there, I'll keep doing it for them."
Although Stewart and Johnson dominated the race, combining to lead all but 17 of 500 laps, it was Gordon who appeared to pose the greatest challenge to the eventual winner.
After bouncing back from a flat tire on Lap 90, Gordon worked up to second and was closing on Stewart when the caution flag flew on Lap 487 for Joe Nemechek's crash.
When Nemechek pulled into the pits, the stage was set for an eight-lap run to the finish. But Kenseth's brake failure and slam into the Turn 1 wall just after the restart brought out the red flag, setting up a three-lap sprint to the finish.
The final dash had the sellout crowd of 70,000 standing in anticipation of a finish like last week's fender-banger at Bristol, but it turned out to be anticlimatic when Gordon spun his tires off Turn 2 on the restart.
With Gordon's Chevy sideways, Stewart simply motored away to a 1.083-second victory, the second of his career at Martinsville and his 25th overall.
"We didn't need that last caution," Gordon said. "I think I had a shot at making things pretty interesting, even getting a fender inside of Tony."
He recovered to finish second. Johnson took third, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. steered his battered car past Kyle Busch on the last lap for fourth. Although he never led, Earnhardt wowed the crowd with his drive in his No. 8 Chevrolet, which was heavily damaged in a multicar crash on the second lap.