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Stewart’s Hot Hand Goes Cold at Las Vegas

Bid for Third Straight Nationwide Series Win Ends Early

Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart appeared on his way to winning his third straight NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 20 Old Spice Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing had led twice for a staggering 61 laps, and all that stood between him and victory lane were 12 cars after a pit stop for four tires and fuel during a caution period on lap 126.

But as Stewart took four tires, many of the teams around him took only two tires. Some even went with a fuel-only pit strategy. And after leading handily, Stewart returned to the track in 13th when the race restarted on lap 129.

It seemed of little matter though, as Stewart’s candy apple red Old Spice machine was the class of the field.

As he motored through that field, however, the competition was still stout. And while racing the No. 99 Toyota of David Reutimann on lap 137, contact was made.

As Stewart raced to the inside of Reutimann going into turn three of the 1.5-mile oval, there was little to no room between the two cars. Stewart’s car wiggled, and it was just enough to upset the balance of the No. 20 machine. Stewart touched fenders with Reutimann and the two drivers spun hard into the SAFER Barrier on the outside retaining wall.

The result was heavy left side damage that destroyed more than just the paint job of the Old Spice Toyota. Thankfully, Stewart emerged unhurt after a precautionary trip to the infield care center.

“I’m banged up a little bit,” said Stewart, who was credited with a 27th-place finish. “You get that close to someone’s door and it makes them real hard to drive. I was on the bottom and I couldn’t go down any further than where we were. There wasn’t much I could do.”

It was a disappointing end to what could’ve been history. After winning the season-opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and the very next race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., a third straight win would’ve made Stewart the first driver to sweep the first three races of the season.

While it was not to be, Stewart surprisingly remains atop the championship driver standings, as he wasn’t the only front-runner to experience problems.

Second in points and his closest challenger in the Sam’s Town 300 was Stewart’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. But a cut tire on lap 102 sent Busch into the turn three wall. His day ended early also, with Busch finishing 31st.

With Stewart and Busch having come into the Sam’s Town 300 first and second, respectively, in the point standings, they left that way too. Stewart is first with 472 points while Busch trails by 42 points.

NASCAR veteran Mark Martin won the Sam’s Town 300 to score his 48th career Nationwide Series victory and his third at Las Vegas. Greg Biffle finished second, while Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and David Stremme rounded out the top-five. IRL IndyCar Series champion and NASCAR rookie Dario Franchitti, Mike Wallace, former Champ Car driver Patrick Carpentier, Brad Coleman and David Ragan comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There was an event record 13 caution periods for 55 laps, with 17 drivers failing to finish the 202-lap race, which was extended two laps past its scheduled 200-lap distance due to a green/white/checkered finish.

The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the March 8 Nicorette 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EST with live, high-definition coverage provided by ESPN2 beginning with its pre-race show at 1:30 p.m. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.

Stewart returns to the No. 20 Old Spice Toyota April 5 at Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly 300.

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