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Winning Never Gets Old (Spice) for Stewart

Old Spice Driver Dominates Nationwide Series Race at Talladega

Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart dominated Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to score his fifth career Nationwide Series win and his third this season. The driver of the No. 20 Old Spice Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing started the 117-lap race from the pole and went on to lead five times for a race-high 81 laps as he took his second restrictor-plate race win of the season and his first win of any kind at Talladega. Stewart won the Nationwide Series season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February – the sister track to Talladega.

“This thing was awesome,” said Stewart, who after driving the No. 20 Toyota to victory at Daytona earned a second consecutive win the very next week Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. “Dave Rogers (crew chief) and all the guys on this Old Spice Toyota team did a great job today.”

Stewart’s trip to Talladega’s victory lane was a coveted one, for he had finished second at the 2.66-mile oval seven times – once in the Nationwide Series and six times in the premiere NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“Everyone knows how close I am with (Alabama residents) Red Farmer and Donnie Allison,” said Stewart, who watched Farmer compete in a dirt late model race the night before at the nearby Talladega Short Track. “I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight. I really wish I could put into words what this means to me. This is about as neat of a win as I’ve had – to finally win at Talladega. ”

As soon as the green flag dropped, Stewart let it be known that his Old Spice Toyota would set the pace. He led the first six laps, and despite giving up the front spot for brief periods of time as he bobbed and weaved through the draft and made scheduled pit stops, Stewart was never far from the front.

Once he made his second-to-last pit stop on lap 64 while under caution – a fuel-only stop that put him back in the lead – Stewart never looked back. He paced the final 53 laps and held off various charges from the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Mike Wallace even as the race was restarted four times for crashes and debris that had brought out the caution.

“I didn’t think leading was the place to be and I still don’t think that – even after winning the race,” said Stewart, who secured a .302 of a second advantage over runner-up David Stremme when the checkered flag dropped. “I just don’t think that being the leader with two laps to go is the place to be.”

On the last lap, Earnhardt got alongside Stewart on the backstretch and made a strong run for the lead, but he could not complete the pass. And after being poised to take the lead away from Stewart, Earnhardt lost the draft and wound up sixth.

“I knew that move was going to happen,” Stewart said. “I didn’t know when, but I knew when we came off of (turn) four coming to the white (flag) that we weren’t in a good spot being that far ahead like we were. You didn’t want to be in a situation where I think I could have overreacted there. If I had dragged the brake to try to stay close to him, then I was going to be in even worse shape.

“I just let it roll out and saw him get the run. There wasn’t much I could do about it, but the good thing was that they got three-wide behind us and that got us some help on the bottom. Then we got the side draft on Earnhardt toward the end of the backstretch and then got help from David Stremme, and that was the push we needed to get here.”

The win was Stewart’s fourth Nationwide Series victory at a restrictor plate track, as he won the season-opening events at Daytona in back-to-back seasons in 2005 and 2006 before winning again in 2008.

Stewart’s victory moved the No. 20 car from third to first in the Nationwide Series owner standings, 55 points ahead of the No. 2 entry of Richard Childress Racing after 10 of 35 races on the Nationwide Series schedule.

Following Stewart and Stremme to the line in third was Bobby Hamilton Jr., while Jason Leffler and Mark Green secured the rest of the top-five. Earnhardt, Mike Bliss, Patrick Carpentier, Scott Wimmer and Wallace comprised the remainder of the top-10.

The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the May 2 Lipton Tea 250 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN2 beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.

Stewart returns to the No. 20 Old Spice Toyota May 9 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway for the Diamond Hill Plywood 200.

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