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Stewart breaks drought and wins EmoryHealth Care 500

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By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

The Victory Lane drought is over.

After winning three times in 2009, Tony Stewart came into Atlanta Motor Speedway looking for his first Sprint Cup victory of the season.

He got it late Sunday night under the lights, taking the checkered flag in the EmoryHealth Care 500.

It was Stewart's first win in 31 starts, dating back to last year's victory in Kansas.

The holiday weekend race turned into a battle between Stewart and second-place Carl Edwards, who each took turns with the lead down the stretch.

It was the fourth victory of Stewart's career at AMS.

The press was still waiting for Stewart to enter the media center for his post-race press conference more than an hour after he took the checkered flag, so no official comment was available to put on the paper's website.

Several drivers played a game of cat and mouse throughout the race with nine different cars taking turns running out front in a race featuring 27 different lead changes, but it was Stewart's night to shine, as he led 175 of 325 laps.

Edwards led for 28 laps but was not able chase down Stewart down the stretch.

"Tonight I think we had a car as good as we have had all season," Edwards said. "I feel like we have scored a ton of points lately. I am looking forwward to the chase."

Four-time defending Sprint Cup points champion Jimmie Johnson was third, Jeff Burton fourth and Kyle Bush fifth.

Points leader Kevin Harvick started the race in the 26th spot, but moved up through the field and made the biggest climb of the race, leading five laps before falling back in the field again and finishing 33 after some car troubles knocked him back in the pack.

Denny Hamlin, who started on the pole and led 74 of the first 143 laps, spun out when he lost his engine, taking him out of the race after 144 laps and giving him a last-place finish.

Hamlin is still not sure what happened to the car's engine after getting off to a fast start.

"We are trying to get an explanation, but (crew chief Mike Ford) doesn't really know until we get back to the shop. The thing is the engine is so destroyed right now, we are never going to find out."

Fans were treated to a clean race early as the first cautuon flag didn't make its first appearence until lap 133 when debris was spotted in turn No. 2. There were just eight caution flags the entire race.

Fan favorite Bill Elliott, who now only races a parttime schedule, finished 23rd.

Former Thursday Thunder drivers Reed Sorenson was 14th, David Ragan was 19th and Joey Logano, who also lost an engine, finished 27.

The Sprint Cup series heads to Richmond next week.