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Sprint Cup Recap — FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks

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There’s a saying in racing: the last lap is the only lap that counts.

Tony Stewart lived by that saying Sunday, leading only the last 3 laps of the 400 lap FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway en route to his first victory of the season.

And forget about this being Stewart’s first win of the year, can you believe it was his first top-5 of the year?  It’s been a struggle for Stewart and all the Stewart-Haas Racing cars in 2013, but Tony is confident his team has started to figure it out.

“It’s definitely momentum.”  Stewart said.  “We’ve got two weeks of momentum under our belt now at two totally different race tracks.  That is big.  Momentum is huge in this sport.”

The win at Dover was Stewart’s first win at the Monster Mile since his Joe Gibbs Racing days way back in 2002.  It was also the second solid finish in a row for the #14, following up a 7th place run last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Now it’s trying to be more consistent and stay in the top-10 more and make our program better,” Stewart said.  “It’s proof that no matter how bad it’s been this year, none of these guys have quit and given up.  Just really proud of the effort this weekend.”

There’s another saying that’s not just specific to racing: it’s better to be lucky than good.

Not saying it was Stewart that got lucky, he made a great pass on the outside of Juan Pablo Montoya with only 3 laps to go.  The whole field got lucky when Jimmie Johnson was given a drive through penalty for jumping the final restart with 20 laps to go.

Johnson had led 143 laps and seemed to have the fastest car in the field, but NASCAR ruled he beat the leader, Juan Pablo Montoya, out of the restart box and to the start-finish line.  NASCAR allows for a restart-jumper to give back the position without a penalty, but Johnson sped ahead and was black flagged.

Johnson, who was in pursuit of a record 8th Dover win, didn’t agree with the penalty.

“I ran half-throttle for the first half a lap, waiting for him, and then at some point you’ve got to go and you’ve got to race,” Johnson said.  “That’s when I got back in the gas and took off.  I was hoping they would see I was trying to give him the spot back.”

If Johnson wasn’t penalized, it seemed as though he would’ve cruised to an easy win, instead, Tony Stewart was able to capitalize and potentially start his climb back into a chase birth.

Here’s what we learned in Dover Sunday:

Brad Keselowski vs. NASCAR is the best rivalry going.  After a hard-fought 5th place finish, but the blue deuce measured too low in the post race tech inspection, and now penalties are expected later in the week.  It was the first race back for Crew Chief Paul Wolfe, who was fresh off a 2 race suspension for violations at Texas.  I’m interested to see what both will have to say on the matter as it unfolds.  It probably won’t be too polite.

Juan Pablo Montoya is having a nice year.  It’s the second runner up finish of the year for JPM, and it was well deserved.  Juan had to race hard all day, even swapping paint multiple times with Kurt Busch during the final 100 laps of the race.  After the race, Juan summed it up saying, “It feels good to run like this every week.

Denny might be done.  Hamlin was running well before blowing a right front tire and smashing hard into the turn 1 wall.  Having already missed 4 races due to a back injury, Hamlin sits 74 points behind 20th place, the wild card eligible position in the standings.  It’s going to take at least a few wins and a whole mess of top fives/top tens for Hamlin to even have a shot at making the chase.

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