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CUP: Stewart Breaks Into Victory Lane At AMS

Tony Stewart ended a long run of frustration Sunday night by asserting his car’s strength over the closing laps to win the Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

LINK> UNOFFICIAL RESULTS: EMORY HEALTHCARE 500 - ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY PDF > UNOFFICIAL DRIVER POINTS: EMORY HEALTHCARE 500 - ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY

The victory was Stewart’s first since last October, a string of 31 races.

Stewart rallied late in the race despite having repeated problems on restarts. He lost the lead or a shot at the lead several times on restarts as he battled spinning tires on the green flags.

Stewart’s crew helped with that problem by putting Stewart out front on the final round of pit stops.

“I didn’t hit a restart all night until right there at the end,” Stewart said. “What a night. It was the last pit stop that got us track position and gave us the opportunity. When I got back in traffic I was in bad shape.

“I’ve never been so happy to win in my life.”

Following Stewart in the top five were Carl Edwards (who was 1.316 seconds behind), Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch.

At race’s end, the top 10 drivers – Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Stewart, Edwards, Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin – in the point standings had clinched positions in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Greg Biffle, in 11th, and Clint Bowyer, in 12th, are likely to be the final two Chase qualifiers after next week’s race at Richmond, Va.

A debris caution with 30 laps to go helped to set the stage for Sunday night’s run to the finish.

Kasey Kahne held a two-car-length lead over Johnson when the caution flew. Edwards was a close third.

The race’s first major incident occurred on lap 152 as the field was jammed for a restart. Contact with Ryan Newman in turn three sent Biffle spinning through the middle of the pack, and Biffle’s car clipped Elliott Sadler, sending Sadler hard into the outside wall.

Pole winner Denny Hamlin was running fifth when his engine blew up on the frontstretch on lap 143, causing the night’s second caution flag.

The first third of the race presented a contest for first between former teammates Stewart and Hamlin. They dominated the first hundred laps, swapping the lead between them. Hamlin led 74 laps before parking with engine trouble and fell from fifth to 10th in the point standings.

The leaders dumped driver after driver off the lead lap as the race’s first 133 laps were run under green.

The first caution finally flew on lap 133 because of debris, finally slowing Hamlin, who was running in front of Stewart at that juncture.

The early laps of the race were not pleasant for Kyle Busch, who was nabbed for entering pit road too fast during the first of two rounds of green-flag pit stops. The penalty dropped Busch a lap down.

Busch rallied mightily, however, and pushed his car into a challenging position before finishing fifth. He is third in points behind Harvick and Gordon.

Kahne was knocked out of a shot at victory by contact from Ryan Newman. Later, Kahne retaliated by bumping Newman’s car. They discussed the incidents at length after the race.

LINK> UNOFFICIAL RESULTS: EMORY HEALTHCARE 500 - ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY PDF > UNOFFICIAL DRIVER POINTS: EMORY HEALTHCARE 500 - ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.

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