|Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virg., Oct. 30, 2011. (STREETER LECKA/Getty Images/AFP)
TORONTO - Want to know who really won the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday?
It was the guy who supplies the NASCAR Sprint Cup series with sheet metal.
In what one can only be described as the 43 best stock car drivers in the world going out for Halloween dressed up as demolition derby drivers, the sixth race of the Chase for the Championship turned into a wreckfest at the little half-mile track in Martinsville, Va.
By the time Tony Stewart took the checkered flag in the No. 14 Chevrolet, there was hardly a car left on the track that wasn’t bent, dented, or busted up.
Along the way Carl Edwards caught another horseshoe, finishing ninth in the No. 99 Ford and retaining his lead in the Chase with only three races left.
At different points in the race Edwards misjudged how important track position would be when he pitted out of sequence early; went down a lap twice; got them back with lucky dog passes and had a black flag penalty reversed with less than 100 laps to go.
Edwards went into Martinsville with a 14-point margin over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
By the time the race was over, the No. 99 Ford bwas ack on top with an eight-point lead over Stewart. Kenseth, who wrecked late in the race, dropped three positions to fifth, 36 points back.
Now Edwards faces a challenge from a determined Stewart — who now has three wins in the 10-race Chase.
“He had better be worried, that’s all I have to say,” Stewart warned after the race.
And what about Stewart’s day. The turning point for his team was a beating and banging fight with the No. 11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin to keep from going a lap down.
Once he managed to stay ahead of Hamlin, a yellow flag brought him back to the leaders — a place he never gave up. His pass on Jimmie Johnson for the win was vintage Stewart and puts him in a position to be Edwards’ biggest threat over the next three weeks.
Kenseth wasn’t the only Chase contender to take a big points hit.
Kyle Busch kissed his chances goodbye when he got tangled up in a late-race wreck, dropping him 57 points back and out of contention.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson finished second, but he is still 43 points back and all but gone from the championship picture.
Brad Keselowski looked like he had a Top Five in the works but he, too, was caught up in a crash, but dropped only one spot, 27 points back.
When is the ESPN Sprint Cup television crew going to stop referring to Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose as NASCAR road-course specialists? I guess when they start referring to Joey Logano, Jeff Burton or Martin Truex Jr. — all behind Montoya, Allmendinger and Ambrose in points — as oval track specialists. ... Force India boss Vijay Mallya said Sunday he will decide soon which two of his three drivers — Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg or Adrian Sutil — will be back next season. Based on this season’s results, it should be di Resta and Hulkenbergh. ... The Indy Light Series tested paddle shifters this past week at Sebring International Raceway. Hard to believe the paddle system — in use at almost all other major open-wheel loops including IndyCar — still hasn’t been adopted by the LIghts. ... With his win in the Camping World Truck Series Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, Denny Hamlin joined the very exclusive club of drivers who have won in all three of NASCAR’s top loops. ... Former IndyCar driver Max Papis and his NCWTS teammate Todd Bodine had a couple of run-ins at Martinsville. IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti used his Twitter account to message his pal Papis, referring to Bodine as an “idiot.”