Indianapolis — Tony Stewart was too spent to climb the fence right away and too happy to care.
A lifelong quest to win a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ended Sunday with Stewart finally getting his "Holy Grail," and he made sure to draw out the celebration as long as he could while the partisan crowd roared with approval.
It wasn't the native Hoosier's beloved Indianapolis 500, but the former IndyCar champion, who has longed to win a race at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, held off a determined challenge from Kasey Kahne to grab an emotional victory in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
It was the fourth victory in the last six races and seventh top-10 finish in a row for the hottest driver in NASCAR, moving him into the lead in the Nextel Cup standings for the first time since he wrapped up his only Cup title in 2002.
"I wish I could put it into words," Stewart said. "It's been my entire life."
This one was up for grabs nearly to the end, with Stewart taking his first lead by passing Brian Vickers 60 with laps to go. But the 25-year-old Kahne, last year's top rookie, didn't make it easy, passing Stewart for the lead with 27 laps left in the 160-lap event - bringing a groan from the crowd of more than 250,000.
Stewart stayed with Kahne, though. After Jimmie Johnson - who came into the race as the points leader - blew a tire and hit the wall on lap 144, bringing out the last of nine caution flags in the race, Stewart took advantage of the restart on lap on lap 150 to regain the lead.
Kahne hung onto the rear bumper of Stewart's orange No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet for a couple of laps, but Stewart finally began pulling away and raced on to win by 0.794-seconds - about five car-lengths.
Stewart, who has climbed the fence to the flagstand after his most recent victories this year, parked his car in the corner of turn two after the cooldown lap and walked up to the foot of the fence, where he popped open a can of soda. Then he entered the car and headed for the start-finish line. After hugging his crew, he lay down on the concrete wall at the bottom of the fencing.
"I'm dying right now," Stewart said. "Too tired to chase fences right now. Give me five minutes."
Finally, Stewart began his victory celebration, taking a slow ride around the famed 2.5-mile oval in a convertible.