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Stewart Dances Way To Nationwide Victory At Daytona

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 19 2011

Tony Stewart in the No. 4 car shades Clint Bowyer at the finish of Saturday's Nationwide Series race in Daytona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Tony Stewart won the Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway Saturday afternoon and, of course, it was as a result of another round of Noah’s Ark racing.

Stewart edged Clint Bowyer by inches to get the victory in the Drive4COPD 300.

Landon Cassill, who pushed Stewart from 11th place to the victory over the final laps, finished third.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had been partnering with Bowyer over the final laps, finished fourth.

The victory was the fourth straight in a Nationwide car at Daytona for Stewart.

Stewart, who led five times for 13 laps, has dominated the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series event – winning four straight and six of the last seven. He is now just one shy of Dale Earnhardt’s record seven wins and is tied with Bobby Allison for the second-most wins all-time at the “World Center of Racing” with 16. The late Dale Earnhardt tops the list with 34.

“This is momentum and a great way to lead into tomorrow,” said Stewart, referring to Sunday’s Daytona 500. “There’s nothing better than going back to the motorhome tonight knowing you just won the race and have a shot of doing it tomorrow.”

The finish was set up when a wreck with 16 laps to go brought out a caution.

Bowyer was leading, his then-drafting buddy Stewart was second and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and drafting buds Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were third and fourth.

The Gibbs drivers opted to pit to top off.

Stewart had to leave Bowyer and pit too, as he had a flattening tire during yellow flag laps.

When the race restarted for the final time – after a red flag stopped the cars for several minutes for wreck cleanup – Bowyer

Tony Stewart celebrates another NNS win Daytona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

had the lead with six laps to go and Earnhardt Jr. was next to him. Bowyer quickly dropped down in front of Earnhardt and they paired up.

Heading to the finish line, Stewart went high and pulled alongside of Bowyer. The finish was too close to call for several seconds.

When it was, Stewart had the win.

“Tony just used me when he needed to and that’s awesome,” said Cassill, who is the series’ points leader but doesn’t have a ride in next week’s race. “He taught me something. We swapped with two (laps) to go and he knew where to take the car and I don’t know if I could have done that like he did. I’m just happy to be pushing him through it and maybe next time I’ll be the one leading him through.”

The margin turned out to be .007 seconds. The margin of victory was the third-closest in series history and the closest ever for a NASCAR Nationwide finish at Daytona.

The defending series champion’s season got off to a horrible start. Brad Keselowski, driving a Dodge for Penske Racing, ran well for much of the race but with 15 laps to go, he was squeezed into the front stretch grass by Cassill.

Reed Sorenson finished fifth, Jason Leffler sixth, Busch seventh, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. eighth, Michael Waltrip ninth and Trevor Bayne 10th.

Danica Patrick finished 14th, one lap down to the leaders.

Keselowski’s car came back onto the track where it was hammered at speed by the car of Josh Wise.

The crash ended Keselowski’s streak of 102 straight races without a DNF.

The driver who pursued Keselowski for the 2010 championship also had a rough day as he was in and out of the pits with car problems. He would finish 13 laps off the pace.

Also suffering a bad ending was Busch, the winner of 13 NNS races last year, and his teammate Logano. They crashed on the final lap.

“It was just unfortunate with Joey there,” Busch said. “We had two great race cars all day. We worked together the whole time. All we wanted to do was bring it home in one piece and unfortunately we didn’t make it – just circumstances. I saw the 4 (Stewart) coming up in my mirror really, really quick so I tried to block the middle and come down just a little bit. Obviously that off-centered me from Joey’s rear bumper and turned him sideways – completely my faul

“Unintentional, but just trying to make it to where the 4 didn’t have room to shoot up through the middle of us there and make us all three-wide all pushing each other. I hate it for those guys and Joey and everybody on the GameStop team. Our Z-Line Camry was good and worked well with them all day. Just unfortunate at the end there.”

Logano was asked if he thought he and Busch had cars fast enough to challenge the front four.

“Of course we had something for them,” Logano said. “Kyle and I were working with each other and we drove each other up there and we worked good as teammates all day. It’s not his fault. It’s just a product of this racing we’ve got. It sucks because you can’t do nothing about it. There’s nothing else we can do to make us stop doing it and unfortunately it’s just ridiculously stupid at the end of the day, and we were wrecking each other so that’s the hard part.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 19 2011
One Comment

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  • Terry says:

    The mystery to me is ….why no one hooked up with Trevor Bayne at the end the race. Everyone he has pushed( all week ) went to the front…..
    If I had been anywhere NEAR the front to the pack on the last laps I would have been looking for the kid……