Joliet:Tony Stewart finally broke through for his first victory of the season, holding off Matt Kenseth on several late-race restarts Sunday to win USG Sheetrock 400 American stock-car race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Stewart broke a 20-race winless streak in NASCAR's top-tier Nextel Cup series dating to last season thanks in part to a hard crash by contender Jimmie Johnson, who was running second behind Stewart with 45 laps left when his tire went flat.
Johnson walked away from the crash into the wall without any serious injuries beyond a sore elbow, but it left his car mangled and ruined his chance at a victory.
The accident jumbled pit strategies for the race leaders, most of whom only needed a splash of fuel to make it to the end when they pitted with 40 laps left.
After a quick pit stop, Stewart came out of the pits with the lead, ahead of Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick. Kenseth pulled side-by-side to challenge Stewart on the restart, but Stewart held him off until another caution flag came out for a crash by JJ Yeley 20 laps later.
Kenseth remained right behind Stewart when the race restarted with 18 laps to go, and Joe Nemechek crashed two laps later, forcing Stewart to fend off the field on yet another late restart.
But Stewart squirted away on the final restart with 12 laps to go, and Kenseth wasn't able to mount another challenge in the closing laps.
Kenseth held off a charge from teammate Carl Edwards to finish second. Edwards finished third, followed by Kevin Harvick and pole-sitter Casey Mears.
Sunday's victory broke a 20-race winless streak for Stewart, whose last victory came Nov. 5, 2006, at Texas Motor Speedway.
Stewart did win two non-points-paying events leading up to the season-opening Daytona 500 this year, and certainly has had his chances to win races this year at Atlanta, Bristol, Phoenix and Charlotte.
Meanwhile, Hendrick Motorsports' dominance in the first half of the season seems to be fading slightly. Hendrick drivers Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears won 10 of the first 14 races. But Hendrick has been shut out of victory lane for the past five races.