Saturday, February 13, 2010

Stewart Hard To Beat In Daytona

(Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Tony Stewart has proven he belongs among the best in NASCAR and on Saturday he solidified his place among the best that can get the job done in Daytona. Piloting the No. 4 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet, Stewart was able to come from the back, avoid a number of incidents and hold off a late-race charge to score his fifth win in the last six Nationwide Series races at Daytona.

Stewart jumped out to the lead for the final time on Lap 96 and from then on kept one eye out front and the other in the mirror. With a hungry Justin Allgaier on his back bumper and Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick charging hard, Stewart was able to hold on for the final laps to score the win.

“You know they’re not going to just sit there and ride and stay where they’re at,” Stewart said. “Everybody’s trying to win it, so you just kind of have an idea of how much longer you need to do what you’re doing.”

“I was pushing (Tony) Stewart as hard as I could,” Allgaier said. “I probably could have got a run there at the end and gone for the win, but I got loose with the 60 (Carl Edwards) behind me and didn’t want to get out of line and get shuffled back. I wasn’t going to wreck the field and made the decision that I wasn’t going to leave the 4’s bumper. Unfortunately, I lost a few spots their coming out of Turn 4, but we’ll certainly take a fourth-place finish.”

Leading three times for a total of 38 laps, Stewart kept his nose clean and out front to earn his sixth restrictor place victory in the series – tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the most (Earnhardt Sr. has two addition victories at Daytona, but they occurred before the use of the plates).

The win was also the two-time Cup Series champion’s 15th in a stock car at the 2.5-mile speedway, making him third on the list, tied with Cale Yarborough.

“This is really because of Kevin and DeLana Harvick,” Stewart said from victory lane. “Kevin and DeLana have always given us great race cars, I mean every time. So, from that standpoint I’m not surprised, just glad to be here again.”

The 120-lap DRIVE4COPD 400 was marred by a seven caution flags, two of which were for major wrecks that caught up some of the biggest stars of the day.

For much of Speedweeks the television coverage has focused on one driver – Danica Patrick. Making her much anticipated NASCAR debut, the open-wheel driver started from the 35th position and struggled in the early stages, nearly getting lapped at one point.

As she began to get more aggressive and more comfortable in the draft, Patrick’s No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet began to move through the pack. That is until the slow car of Josh Wise triggered a massive 12-car pile-up.

 (Credit: Jerry Jordan/The Examiner Newspaper)

Running laps down, Wise’s No. 61 made contact in the door with the No. 10 of Jason Leffler and then shot up the track into rookie Colin Braun. The incident sent cars scattering as they tried to make it through in one piece. Patrick drove straight through the smoke, but was hit by the wildly spinning No. 16 of Braun. Shooting up into the outside wall, Patrick’s day was done on Lap 69.

(Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

After a lengthy clean up on the frontstretch the field restarted the race, but they were not done wrecking.

Running down the backstretch on Lap 91, Brad Keselowski moved down the track just as Carl Edwards looked to duck in line behind him on the high side. The two made contact, sending Keselowski into the right rear of Dale Earnhardt Jr. The No. 88 Chevrolet dug in and rolled on its side before smacking the wall with its nose. Brendan Gaughan was tucked behind Keselowski and had nowhere to go but into the flipping car of Earnhardt. Kyle Busch drove into the windshield of the No. 88 car as others piled into the wreck.

“I saw (Dale Earnhardt) Junior get turned in the middle like I just saw him come in the middle of the two lines and when I saw him turn sideways I started to see the under-carriage,” Gaughan said. “Knowing where I was sitting I thought, ‘I’m screwed, my Toyota is coming back in a heap.’”

Thanks to the safety of the cars, Earnhardt Jr. was able to climb out unharmed to look at his tore up race car. With two wrecked race cars, he could do little but think about how much this was going to cost the team he owns.

"That was expensive right there” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We'll have to go back and balance our books. Rough day for JR Motorsports."

After getting turned by Earnhardt Jr. in the ten car wreck, Kevin Harvick’s car was full of grass, but still in one piece. Restarting the race in eleventh, Harvick was hungry to get to the front, but just didn’t have the help to mount a successful charge. As Kyle Busch lost control of his ride in the final turns, Harvick made his move and dove under Allgaier for the third spot. Perhaps one of the strongest cars in the field, Harvick could not help but be pleased as his other car sat in victory lane.

“I think the competitor in you wants to win,” Harvick said. “Shoot, I’m just lucky that my car was still rolling. I hadn’t spun out and not hit anything in about a year, so it was nice to have that happen.”

Next week the series heads to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. for the Stater Bros. 300. Patrick will be back behind the wheel of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet and is sure to steal much of the attention. Yet, after Saturday’s opening race of the 2010 season, it appears a number of younger drivers are ready to step up into the spotlight in the Nationwide Series, most notably Allgaier.

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