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Talladega, AL (Sports Network) - Tony Stewart will end his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing with at least one victory before he moves on to start his own Sprint Cup Series team next year. Stewart ended a 43-race winless streak with a thrilling victory in Sunday's Amp Energy 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway.
Regan Smith crossed the finish line first, but NASCAR ruled Smith passed Stewart below the yellow line and awarded Stewart with the victory. NASCAR rules state that any driver advancing their position below the yellow line at Talladega or Daytona is out-of-bounds and therefore considered illegal.
"We really got a big push from Regan on the backstretch, and I thought he was going to be able to stay on my bumper," Stewart said. "He got away from us there, got a gap and got a good run. (I) just had to try to protect it at the end."
The victory was Stewart's 33rd career Sprint Cup victory but first at Talladega. He had finished second at the 2.66-mile track six times before.
"It's one thing to get back to victory lane, but to do it at Talladega, this is one of about four places I haven't won a Cup race at," Stewart said. "Talk about wanting to win, I've wanted to win here for so long."
Smith thought Stewart forced him below the yellow line and disagreed with NASCAR's ruling.
"I always got told that the rule was if you get forced down there, then you're the winner of the race, and on the last lap, anything goes," Smith said.
Smith, in his rookie season with Dale Earnhardt Inc., was credited with an 18th-place finish.
Stewart led a race-high 24 laps and survived two major wrecks to record his first Cup win since August 2007 at Watkins Glen. The 500-mile event at Talladega featured a whopping 64 lead changes among 28 drivers.
Jimmie Johnson ran far off the pace, nearly six seconds behind leader Travis Kvapil, in the opening laps. Johnson qualified 20th on Friday but had to start from the rear of the field due to adjustments during the impound. He fell one lap behind, but the second caution on Lap 47 put him back on the lead lap.
On Lap 54, David Reutimann blew a right-rear tire and spun. Jeff Gordon, a "Chase" contender and six-time Talladega winner, tried to avoid Reutimann's car but slammed into the wall and sustained heavy damage to his Chevrolet.
"I was all the way in the back, and (Reutimann) cut a tire and turned left out of nowhere," Gordon said. "I tried to avoid him, and when I did, the car turned to the right and just lost control."
Gordon returned to the track 33 laps behind but was involved in another incident in the late-stages, ending his day with a 38th-place finish.
Johnson suffered a broken splitter brace from the incident and had to make repairs in the pits during the caution. He managed to stay on the lead lap.
The first big accident occurred on Lap 68 when Brian Vickers' right-front tire exploded, triggering a nine-car wreck. Vickers bumped into Martin Truex, Jr., whose car was severely damaged.
"Vickers was right there beside me and his right front tire exploded, and I heard 'bam' like a shotgun going off, and (I) just (went) along for the ride from there," Truex said.
Aric Almirola, David Gilliland, Kasey Kahne, Terry Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Tony Raines and Mike Skinner were also involved in the pileup.
"I felt my right-front tire explode," Vickers said. "I saw the right-front fender going through the air before the front of the car even dropped,"
NASCAR halted the race for 17 minutes for track cleanup efforts.
Denny Hamlin held the lead when he blew a right-front tire on Lap 99. Hamlin smacked the wall hard and needed assistance in getting out of his car. He was awake and alert after the accident but was transported to a nearby hospital for further observation.
The second big accident came with less than 15 laps to go when Carl Edwards bumped Greg Biffle from behind heading into turn three. Biffle spun and collected Matt Kenseth, Kvapil, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Dave Blaney, Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joe Nemechek, Reed Sorenson and Michael Waltrip were also involved in the incident.
"I think (Edwards) tried to give us just a little help there in the center of the corner and got us turned around," Biffle said.
The race was stopped again, this time for 12 minutes.
Stewart captured the lead when the 12-car pileup occurred and ran out in front when the race resumed with 10 laps remaining.
McMurray cut a right-front tire to put the race under caution for the 10th time, setting up a green-white-checkered finish.
Stewart held off DEI drivers Smith and Paul Menard until Smith made his attempt for the win coming out of the final turn on the last lap.
Menard was credit with second-place, his career-best finish in the series.
David Ragan, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer completed the top-five.
Johnson recovered from a difficult day at Talladega to finish ninth and remain the leader in the championship "Chase" standings. Johnson now holds a 72-point advantage over Edwards, who finished 29th.
"I was pushing (Biffle) as hard as I could, and it was my fault, and I apologize to everyone caught up in that wreck," Edwards said.
Biffle is 77 points down in third after his 24th-place finish.
The fifth race in the "Chase" is scheduled for Saturday, October 11th, at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
10/05 20:12:35 ET
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