Once again, the 34-year-old Stewart climbed the fence. Since Loudon isn’t Daytona, when he reached the top of the fence, he couldn’t just climb into the flag stand. This time he had to clamber over and onto the stairs leading to the stand, where he grabbed the checkered flag, waved it, pumped his fists and acted in general like a kid half his age. And a crowd of 100,000 at New Hampshire International Speedway roared its approval.
“Yes,” said Stewart, “it wore me out climbing up on the fence again. And, yes, I’m still too old and still too fat to be doing it. I’m going to have to hire a trainer because I do plan on winning some more races this year. So I’m not going to not do that that. I’m going to have to get a trainer so I feel better after I get up there.”
After starting 13th, he picked up seven positions in the first 20 laps and reached first place by lap 51. By race’s end, those behind Stewart were mainly left scratching their heads.
“They’ve run into something as of late,” said runner-up Kurt Busch. “He’s on a roll, and it’s hard to beat a guy when he’s in that zone.”
“Tony Stewart has won three of the last four,” said his teammate, and third-place finisher, Bobby Labonte, “but, trust me, it’s not easy.”
Once Again He Raises Himself
The race wasn’t completely without close competition. After all, there were the early laps when Stewart’s Chevrolet hadn’t reached the front yet. And late in the race, he actually seemed mortal for a few laps at the end of caution periods.
From lap 240 through 246, Stewart and Kurt Busch squared off in a breathtaking duel. The brothers Busch – Stewart jokingly called them Kyle “Shrub” and Kurt “Bigger Busch” afterward – double-teamed him and when Stewart pulled low to mute Kyle Busch’s run, Kurt leapfrogged from third all the way to first.
“It was as good as I thought,” Stewart said of his car. “This thing was awesome from the start. As soon we got to the front, I knew we had a great car, but you don’t know what they’re showing.”
The win was his second on this track and 22nd of Stewart’s career. He also won in Sonoma, Calif., and Daytona, and has posted finishes of second and fifth in his last five starts.
“We feel like we’re on top of the world,” crew chief Greg Zipadelli said.
Stewart began a run of dominance after passing Ryan Newman on the 51st lap. But Kurt Busch, trying to become the only driver to win three times on the track after sweeping the races last year, got by with 60 laps to go.
Zipadelli was asked whether he thought Stewart had taken too much out of his car.
“He just told me to relax, that he’d get back up there,” Zipadelli said.
Stewart did just that, reclaiming the lead after he and Kurt Busch banged twice five laps later. But he said he wasn’t as dominant late in the race because the other teams began adjusting and closing the gap.
The most defining moment of the race came when Stewart moved from fourth to second on lap 68 by passing Rusty Wallace on the outside and cutting inside Kyle Busch just a few hundred feet later.
Race leader Scott Wimmer nearly became Stewart’s third conquest of the lap. Wimmer barely kept the lead at the line, then Stewart went by less than a half-lap later.
His Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet led 232 of 300 laps and beat the Ford of Kurt Busch by 0.851 seconds on The Magic Mile. It was the eighth top-10 finish in the last 11 races for Stewart, third in the NASCAR Nextel Cup standings.
Asked why he’s on such a roll, in victory lane, Stewart said, “Who cares? I’m just happy that we got it right now, to be honest. Hopefully, it will carry through to the Chase. We’ve got an awesome shot at winning this championship, and every one of these guys in the Home Depot uniforms behind me knows it.”
“I’ve got a lot of confidence,” said Stewart. “That’s because we’re not at a deficit anymore. We deserve now to be put in the category of the Roush and Hendrick teams.”
Kyle Busch came home fourth and Greg Biffle was fifth. Rounding out the top-10 were Kasey Kahne, Newman, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the July 24 Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The race begins at 1:40 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by TNT.