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Stewart Nearing Earnhardt Mark – Unfortunately

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 22 2012

Tony Stewart says only bad luck has kept him out of Victory Lane after past Daytona 500s. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The count-up has begun in earnest for three-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who is 0-for-13 in the sport’s biggest race, the Daytona 500.

Already the questioners in the media center at Daytona International Speedway are drawing comparisons to Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s streak of losses in the 500, which ran to 19 before he finally won it in 1998.

Stewart responded to the stat by saying he’s had good cars in the 500, just not good enough luck to win it.

“I don’t think we feel jinxed,” he said. “We’ve had some really good cars here and we’ve just missed. I mean, we ran second to Dale Jr. that one year [2004]… We had a really, really good car.

“And I had a pit road speeding penalty coming in on a green-flag stop and had to go to the back. And we worked our way back up to the front and I got loose in front of Kurt (Busch) and Kurt didn’t have anywhere to go and it took out both of us from the 500 that year. So we’ve had some good opportunities.

“We’ve been leading late in these races and so I feel like (with) the law of averages, we’re going to get one eventually. But I mean there have been a lot of them that have slipped away and slipped through our fingers. But we’ve had good luck here; we just haven’t had that good luck during the 500 yet. So we’ll just keep digging.”

Like Earnhardt Sr., Stewart has had his share of success at Daytona in non-500 races. He has three Cup wins, in the Coke Zero 400, and six wins in Nationwide Series races at Daytona.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., speaking on the same subject, said among the things he’s glad about is winning the

Tony Stewart takes a 14th shot at winning the big one this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

500 relatively early in his own career, thus avoiding a count-up on him. He did point out that his own losing streak in Cup racing in general has been a drag on him and his team, costing among other things $1 million last year in bonus money.

Earnhardt also said that Stewart should get his 500 victory sooner or later.

“Tony has come down here with a lot of great race cars,” Earnhardt said. “He’s talented enough to know how to win this race. Things just haven’t worked out for whatever reason.

“I think his talent will carry him for so many more years, and I think he will be in enough competitive race cars to have plenty more chances to win it. The odds are really good for him compared to other people in the field. I wouldn’t get too concerned or worried about it if I were him. It will eventually come about.”

Earnhardt also said that of all the drivers in the field, he rates Stewart among the best drafting partners.

“He is, for whatever reason, always thinking the right things,” Earnhardt said. “He knows where to be to be safe. He knows what to do when he wants to go forward. He has a good way about calling his race from the seat at Daytona and Talladega.”

And Earnhardt said that if the opportunity arises, he’ll hook up with Stewart on Sunday even though most drivers from multi-car teams tend to pick partners from within their respective stables.

“He is very easy and very nice to draft with,” Earnhardt said. “I’m sure he will probably want to work with his teammates, but if I get the opportunity to work with him, that has always been a bonus for me and worked out well for me.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 22 2012
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