RICHMOND, VA. Patience proved to be a virtue for Tony Stewart in the wreck-filled Pontiac Excitement 400.
Steering clear of a record-tying number of accidents, Stewart pulled away from rookie Ryan Newman on a restart with 17 laps to go Sunday in the rain-delayed race.
Stewart led the last 27 laps at Richmond International Raceway, where he's won two straight spring races and three times in seven career starts. The victory was his 14th in 115 Winston Cup starts.
He also moved from 10th place to eighth in the points race, shaking off the disappointment of consecutive 29th-place runs.
"I probably ran one of the most patient races I've ever run, and it wasn't because I wanted to, but because I had to," Stewart said.
There were a track record-tying 14 caution periods and a record 103 laps run under the yellow flag on the track billed "The Action Track."
"There were a lot of guys that were being very courteous, a lot of give and take going on out there," Stewart said. "And then there were a lot of guys that were in a big hurry, and it seemed like the guys that got in a hurry, sure enough, as time went on they were dropping out like flies."
Stewart qualified third but started 41st when the race began Saturday night because he'd changed his engine. He was 27th when the race resumed for the final 334 laps after what amounted to a 14-hour rain delay.
And he started with a bad attitude, unhappy with his car, unhappy that new sealer had created a one-groove track and thinking he had no shot.
"I'll be honest. I was down last night, I was down the first 50 laps this morning and Greg (Zipadelli) and the guys kept working hard," he said. "When they're putting forth that effort, I've got to do the same thing."
Slowly but surely, Stewart worked his way into contention, finally cracking the top 10 with about 160 laps to go and continuing his climb.
He passed Mark Martin for third with 67 laps to go, moved by Jeff Gordon for second with 55 laps left and then set his sights on Newman, who ran in the top five all day and was strongest on long runs.
After following on Newman's bumper for several laps, Stewart finally sneaked his car underneath on the 372nd lap, rode side-by-side with Newman for a lap and then pulled ahead for good entering the first turn.
Newman held on for second in his Ford, followed by the Fords of Jack Roush teammates Jeff Burton and Martin and Jeremy Mayfield's Dodge.
"From the drop of the green flag last night to the checkered flag today, we knew we had a good car," Newman said. "We had a car that was capable of winning, but sometimes you can't finish what you start."
Burton, meanwhile, was pleased to rally for his best finish of the season after cutting a tire with about 100 laps to go.
"I think we came out 28th with about 100 laps to go and drove up to third, so that was all we had," he said. "That was all we could get."
Matt Kenseth, another Roush driver, rallied from three laps down early to finish sixth, and Gordon finished seventh as the first Chevrolet.
The side-by-side duel for the lead was a rare sight as the track was mostly a one-groove raceway because of a new sealer that didn't work.
"They took a great race track and screwed it up," said Ricky Rudd, who made his 655th consecutive start to tie Terry Labonte's series mark, but had a chance at victory taken away when he crashed with 91 laps to go.
For much of the day, it looked like Rudd would make history in style. The veteran had the dominant car until a flat front tire caused Rusty Wallace to clip Rudd's, sending it slamming into the wall on lap No. 309.
"He hit me in the quarter panel and it was over," said Rudd, who was upset that Wallace didn't get out of the way after blowing the tire.
One lap after a restart with 67 laps left, Jimmy Spencer bumped Martin from behind, getting Martin loose and causing a pack of cars to try to brake in a cloud of smoke on the backstretch. Ten cars were involved in the accident, including Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin.
Marlin finished 11th and remained the points leader by 132 over Kenseth, who passed Kurt Busch for second. Busch is third, 191 behind, and Martin is fourth, giving Roush three of the top four. Martin is 193 back.