Martinsville, VA (Sports Network) - Tony Stewart gained huge ground in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship by winning Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 in dramatic fashion at Martinsville Speedway.
Stewart passed Jimmie Johnson for the lead just after a restart with three laps remaining and then held off a fierce challenge from Johnson to claim his third win in the first seven Chase races this season.
The 500-lap race at Martinsville turned out to be a slugfest, featuring a season-high 18 cautions -- all of them for accidents.
"I don't think we had the best race car today, by any means, but we had the most determined pit crew to get the car as good as they could get it," said Stewart, who won his 42nd career Sprint Cup Series race, including three at Martinsville. "I think I was the only guy who didn't get in a wreck with somebody, so I was proud of that."
With the win, Stewart moved into second in the championship standings. He is now eight points behind leader Carl Edwards, who managed to finish ninth after struggling for most of the race.
Stewart had friendly advice for Edwards heading into the final three races -- Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. The two-time series champion came to Martinsville 19 points behind Edwards.
"He better be worried; that's all I have to say," Stewart quipped. "He's not going to have an easy three weeks."
Just how worried is Edwards?
"He's wound up; he won the race," Edwards said. "We'll see what happens at Texas. I feel like we're going to go there and have as good a shot to win as anyone."
Johnson was attempting to win at Martinsville for the seventh time, as well as give team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career victory in NASCAR's premier series.
"I just didn't get away from [Stewart] on the restart," Johnson said. "I was more worried about clipping the curb, and he was running me tight. I didn't want to take him out of a championship situation. I just wanted to do the right thing, and unfortunately, I got beat in the process."
Jeff Gordon rebounded from a multi-car crash on lap eight to finish third. The incident involved six drivers, with four of them being championship contenders.
"That was absolutely crazy," Gordon said. "I got caught up in that incident with my teammate Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. It looked like he hit the curb. I chose to go high, and I should have gone low. But it was a great effort by this [No. 24 team]. They fixed the nose. I ran it hard to get back up there."
Chase drivers Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five.
Jeff Burton finished sixth, followed by Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. Ryan Newman, also a title hopeful, took the 10th spot.
Harvick is now 21 points out of the lead, while Brad Keselowski is 27 markers behind after finishing 17th. Keselowski got turned around during the final lap.
Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, both of whom are in the Chase, were involved in a late-race wreck that put them behind the wall for several laps. Kenseth suffered a broken track bar, while Busch had a wheel come off his car after pitting. He sustained suspension damage while trying to get back on pit road with a missing tire.
Kenseth was second in the standings before the race, but after a 31st-place finish, he dropped to fifth in points (-36). Busch is 57 points behind Edwards following his 27th-place run.
Brian Vickers was involved in several of the wrecks, including the one that setup the three-lap shootout and eventually cost Johnson a win.
"The 83 [Vickers] was a part of that caution in [turns] three and four; I just wish he could have driven around the racetrack, so we could have won this thing," Johnson said.
Earlier in the race, Vickers bumped into Jamie McMurray and put him into the outside wall. McMurray tried to retaliate on Vickers but missed him and then slammed the front end of his car into the wall again.
"I'm just really upset," McMurray said. "I just felt like he took a cheap shot at me, and I didn't appreciate it."
10/30 19:53:27 ET