Stewart holds off Johnson for Las Vegas win

Las Vegas, NV (Sports Network) - Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart hit the jackpot at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first time by winning Sunday's Kobalt Tools 400.

During the final round of pit stops under caution, Stewart beat Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson out of the pits, but Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski remained on the track and took over the top-two running positions. After the restart with 34 laps remaining, Stewart dipped below Bowyer and Keselowski and then made a daring three-wide pass to reclaim the lead.

"I had to go, man," Stewart said. "I knew that Matt had four tires, and Greg and those guys had better tires than I did. I knew as long as I could get the clean air then we could hold them off for a little bit. I just didn't know we would be able to hold them off during the whole run."

Stewart then held off four-time Las Vegas race winner Jimmie Johnson after a pair of restarts within the final 10 laps. He beat Johnson to the finish line by a half-second to win at Las Vegas for the first time in his 14th attempt here.

"I don't know if we had the dominant car today, but we were just so strong on the restarts," said Stewart, who led the most laps with 127.

One year ago, Stewart put on a dominating performance at Las Vegas by leading 163 of 267 laps, but he was hit with a penalty for a piece of equipment (air wrench) that escaped his pit stall during a round of pit stops at the halfway point. Stewart also relinquished the top spot during a round of stops in the closing laps when he and then crew chief Darian Grubb elected for four new tires, while the other frontrunners took two. He wound up finishing second to Carl Edwards.

Steve Addington is now Stewart's crew chief.

Stewart earned his 45th career victory. He has won a race in each of his 14 seasons in NASCAR's premier series. Last year, he won five of the last 10 races, including the season-finale at Homestead, FL, to capture his third championship in the series.

Darlington and Kentucky are the only racetracks where Stewart has yet to win a Sprint Cup event. The series ran at Kentucky for the first time last year, with Kyle Busch winning that race.

Johnson finished second after having to start from the rear of the field in a backup car. The five-time Sprint Cup championship wrecked his primary car during Saturday's final practice. He qualified sixth on Friday.

"With what we went through this weekend, we'll take it [second]," Johnson said. "I wanted to win. I think we had a little bit more speed, but Tony could really get away on those restarts."

Biffle finished third, while Stewart's teammate, Ryan Newman, took the fourth spot. Edwards completed the top-five.

Following the final restart with four laps to go, Kenseth was running in the third position, but Kenseth made contact with Edwards, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, and then hit the wall. The Daytona 500 winner fell deep in the field to finish 22nd.

"Carl just laid back and got by me three wide, but it just didn't seem like there was a whole lot of room going into [turn] one," Kenseth said. "I did get clear by him, and he just stopped in the middle of the corner. I don't know what really happened. I got into him a little bit."

Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne finished sixth through ninth, respectively. Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated in the early going by leading 70 of the first 71 laps, but Earnhardt Jr. dealt with an ill-handling car and faded late in the race to finish 10th.

"The car was just really tight, and we should have worked on it during the day," said Earnhardt Jr., who is now winless in the last 132 races.

Biffle took over the points lead, holding a 10-point advantage over Kevin Harvick, who finished 11th. Biffle is the only driver with top-10 finishes in the first three races this season.

Johnson's second-place run allowed him to jump from 37th to 23rd in points.

03/11 20:18:40 ET

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