One year ago, Tony Stewart left Pocono Speedway just inside the top-12 in points, winless, and dejected following a 35th-place finish in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota.
A year later, Stewart, affectionately known as "Smoke," leaves the 2.5-mile superspeedway with a smile, a trophy, and a sizable points lead in the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet.
Starting shotgun from the field after wrecking his primary car in the final practice session held on Saturday, Stewart charged through the field.
Parlayed with some genius strategy that propelled the 38-year-old Rusheville Rocket from the penthouse to the mansion, the points leader found himself leading the pack with 45 laps to go.
However, Stewart's road to Victory Lane would have its drama (appropriate for TNT's first race of the season), amidst a day with the new double-file, "shootout" restart implemented with Sunday's Pocono 500.
Trailing the No. 14 Chevrolet was another driver who has been shut out of the winner's circle this season, namely in the form of Carl Edwards.
Dubbed by many motorsports writers as the man to beat for 2009, Edwards has persevered in what has otherwise been a somewhat disappointing season.
Entering Sunday's race in 11th spot in the points standings, the man behind the No. 99 AFLAC Ford Fusion looked like he was on his way to break his winless streak, leading 103 of the 200 laps at Pocono.
However, Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing team fell short, as the Stewart-Haas Racing team's flagship operation and driver had just enough fuel to win the 500-miler.
For the 29-year-old, it was one of those half-glass, half-empty full days. Sure he could've won, but...
"I'll probably be happy later today, but man, to be that close to victory and not win, that was frustrating," Edwards said following the race, per AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston's article. "The points are great though. I'll definitely take something good out of this."
Edwards' second-place finish to Stewart advances the Missouri native to sixth-place in the championship points race, 281 markers behind race-winner and points leader Stewart.
Absolutely relieved and ecstatic, Stewart capped off a relatively erratic weekend with a win in his back-up machine, leading 39 laps in a race weekend owned by drivers who have driven for Joe Gibbs Racing.
As for the former JGR ace who was relishing his debut victory as a co-car owner to Gene Haas, Stewart's win offered one of the Hooiser State's finest to reflect on his outstanding performance and moment.
"It's just a little different when you're the one that's got to be accountable," Stewart reflected.
A notable win, Stewart became the first owner/driver to find their way into Victory Lane since Chesapeake, Virginia's Ricky Rudd's memorable triumph in the 1998 NAPA Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Stewart leaves Pocono with a 71-point advantage over Jeff Gordon, who finished fourth by way of a fuel-mileage gamble, and by 103 markers ahead of three-time defending titlist Jimmie Johnson, whose No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet ran out of fuel enroute to a seventh-place finish.
The Cup gang head to Brooklyn, MI, for next Sunday's running of the LifeLock 400, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks to re-capture the magic of his win in 2008 at the two-mile facility.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!