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Stewart holds off Johnson for Las Vegas victory

When you think back to the dramatic duel Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart waged down the stretch last season for the Championship, it seems a bit odd that last Sunday’s Kobalt Tools  400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway marked exactly one year since Carl Edwards’ last victory.

Another win or two over the remainder of the 2011 season could have made the Missouri driver the 2011 Sprint Cup Series Champion, just based on some wins.

Stewart’s historic run, winning five of the 10 Chase races that ended the season with Edwards and Stewart tied in the points saw the

Championship given to Stewart as the driver with the most wins.

Interestingly, Edwards came into Las Vegas last Sunday, mirroring the start of last season.  He won the pole at Daytona and finished eighth.  Last season he finished second at Daytona.  His performance at Phoenix hasn’t been anything to shout about either last spring or this season. He finished 28th in 2011 and 17th two weeks ago.

Edwards ranked 12th in points entering last year’s spring race. He went to the desert-mile track last weekend sitting 10th in the standings.  Any time you’re talking about Las Vegas Motor Speedway, you have to respect Roush Fenway Racing’s résumé and the team’s fast start for the 2012 season.

Roush’s Edwards is a two-time winner at Las Vegas, also taking the checkered flag in 2008.  Teammate Matt Kenseth also has a pair of victories.  The third Roush Fenway Driver, Greg Biffle, has yet to visit victory lane in Las Vegas, but is off to one of his best starts, posting third place finishes at both Daytona and Phoenix. Each of the three Roush Fenway Ford drivers went to Las Vegas last weekend ranked in the top ten in points. Biffle second, Daytona 500 winner Kenseth fourth, and Edwards 10th.

Since the speedway opened in 1998, Roush Fenway drivers have recorded seven wins, 17 top five and 35 top 11 finishes and led more than 1200 laps.  More striking, coming into last weekend at least one Roush driver has finished among the top 10 in all 14 of the track’s Sprint Cup Races, 12 times in the top 5. The inaugural race at Las Vegas in 1998 saw Roush Fenway drivers finish second, fourth, sixth and 10th behind winner Mark Martin, who drove for Jack Roush at the time.

Last Sunday, three-time champion Tony Stewart held off five-time champion Jimmie Johnson to notch his first Cup race win at the 1.5 mile track, leaving only Darlington and Kentucky as active Cup tracks at which he hasn’t won.  The win was Stewart’s 45th, in 467 Cup starts.

“Man, I’m just glad to win one here,” said Stewart who had the fastest car in last year’s race but lost any chance of winning when he was penalized for running over the air hose during a late race pit stop.  “We were so close last year, and had a dominate car.
“I’m not sure we had the dominate car today, but we had an awfully fast Chevy.”

As usual, at Las Vegas the Roush Fenway Racing contingent was in the front group of cars nearly all afternoon. Greg Biffle once again finished third and assumed the points’ lead. Biffle has been a model of consistency. He has finished third in all three of this season’s races to date.  Teammate Carl Edwards finished fifth. Matt Kenseth was running with the leaders when he struck the outside wall late in the race. Kenseth was credited with a 22nd place finish.

Stewart took the lead after taking only two tires during a pit stop on lap 204 and pulled to a one-second lead. Stewart was able to stay out front through the remaining caution flags due to his excellent restarts.

“Every time the caution came out, I’m like, Not Again!,” Stewart said “You wonder how many times you’ve give them a chance at it on a restart, and when they’re going to be able to capitalize on us.

   “But that was our strong suit today.”

You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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