HAMPTON, Ga. —There isn't a bad time for a first win of the season.
Visiting Victory Lane as you are about to compete for another Sprint Cup Series championship can't hurt, either.
Tony Stewart held off Carl Edwards to win Sunday night's Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and earn his first win of the season and 38th of his career. It was his first win since Oct 4, 2009 at Kansas.
The victory comes just as the Chase for the Cup is set to begin in two weeks. Stewart, who was assured of making the Chase, gains 10 bonus points and will now have a points advantage over at least five other drivers in the Chase who do not have a win yet. "I've never been so happy to win a race in my life," Stewart said. "It's been a while. We definitely earned this one.
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"I forgot what it was like, it's been so long. It felt like it's been an eternity since I won."
Pole-winner Denny Hamlin took control of the race early, leading 74 of the
first 140 laps, including a 133-lap green-flag run to start the race.
The only other car capable of challenging in the first half was Stewart, who traded the lead 10 times with Hamlin.
Hamlin's run was cut short, however, when his engine blew up on Lap 144 and he spun down the frontstretch to bring out the race's second caution.
During pit stops under caution, Stewart retook the lead and on the restart on Lap 152, he was out front followed by Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne.
A lap was not completed yet when Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle made contact to start an accident that also collected Elliott Sadler. On the restart on Lap 162, Stewart continued to hold the lead but was quickly overtaken by Johnson.
David Ragan spun on the backstretch on Lap 201 to bring out the fourth caution. All of the lead-lap cars pit for fuel and tires with Stewart coming off pit road first followed by Johnson, Edwards, Gordon and Kyle Busch.
The race remained green and some in the field were beginning a round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 253 when Kevin Harvick blew a left-front tire to bring out the fifth caution of the race.
After the race leaders pit for fuel and tires, Edwards took over the race lead on the restart on Lap 264, followed by Stewart, Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya and Truex. Gordon pit a second time to top off on fuel in hopes of making a run to the finish without another stop.
Scott Speed's engine blew on Lap 265 to bring out yet another caution. Kurt Busch and Gordon elected to remain on the track while the rest of the lead-lap cars pit for tires and fuel.
On the restart on Lap 275, Kurt Busch was the leader, followed by Gordon, Truex, Kyle Busch, Edwards and Kahne.
Kurt Busch was able to hold on to the lead until Lap 281, when Kahne passed to take the top spot for the first time in the race.
Kahne, Johnson and Edwards spent several laps battling three-wide for the lead until another caution was displayed on Lap 296 when Brad Keselowski spun.
All of the lead-lap cars elected to pit, with Edwards coming off pit road first and taking the lead, followed by Stewart, Kahne, Johnson and Kurt Busch. The race returned to green on Lap 301.
While battling with Kurt Busch, Kahne suffered some damage to his No. 9 Ford and Stewart moved into the lead. Debris from Kahne's run-in ended up bringing out a caution on Lap 303. Stewart remained the leader on the restart on Lap 308, followed by Edwards, Johnson, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.