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Stewart Wins First Duel; Danica Wrecks Hard

| , RacinToday.com Thursday, February 23 2012

Tony Stewart wins first Gatorade Duel Thursday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)


Tony Stewart won the first Gatorade Duel qualifying race on Thursday afternoon when a last-lap wreck occurred with him in the lead.

The victory was the 17th for Stewart at Daytona International Speedway, though none of those wins have come in the Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second in the Duel. Third was Marcos Ambrose.

Michael McDowell finished sixth and earned a berth in the Daytona 500 for his finish.

“It’s unbelievable,” McDowell said. “You just never know until it’s over. I was hoping it would be over five laps earlier than it was, but I just can’t explain it. It’s unbelievable.”

Also racing his way into the 500 was Robby Gordon, who finished ninth.

The wreck at the end involved Danica Patrick, who went hard into the inside wall on the front stretch. She was not injured but here car was destroyed.

“Happend real quick,” Patrick said. “Felt like I was having at least a solid race.

“It felt pretty big,” she said of the wreck. “Don’t know what it looked like.”

Four drivers – including pole-sitter Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., defending Cup champion Tony Stewart – took turns leading through the first 15 laps.

But after that, Denny Hamlin, who started 20th, took the lead and held it until he pitted under green on lap 44.

Stewart then took the lead. Lined up behind were Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola and Jeff Burton. Several of those drivers were iffy on fuel.

With eight laps to go, Michael Waltrip wrecked as he came out of the pits and that brought out a yellow and allowed pitting for the fuel-challenged.

Staying out were leader Stewart and Harvick. Lining up behind them for the restart with four laps to go were  Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

With two to go, Earnhardt took the lead and Edwards fell in behind.

Stewart came  back and got to the lead at the white flag.

“It’s nice to come here, especially for Steve (Addington, his crew chief) and I, being our first race together,” Stewart said, “to be able to come out and have two really good strong and solid races back-to-back is an awesome start for us.

“It’s good momentum for the crew, everybody at Stewart Haas Racing, to carry that momentum from last year. It gives you confidence going into Sunday. We only raced against half the field in this qualifier. We got the other half going off now. Just trying to see how strong those guys are.

“It’s a long race on Sunday and a lot can happen. Even though we had success today, it’s no guarantee that can happen Sunday.

“I think we showed the rest of the field that we have a car that has good speed. That’s a really strong point, just like Trevor Bayne showed last year he had a strong car, so people wanted to go with him. Hopefully that will work for us on Sunday, too.”

Big wrecks remained a big part of Speedweeks 2012 as one occurred during the first Duel.

On lap nine, Michael McDowell hit the rear bumper of David Gilliland’s car as they hugged the yellow line at the bottom of the track.

Gilliland’s car broke loose and took out the cars of Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Menard. All three of those cars were taken to the garages, their day over.

“It looked like somebody turned Gilliland,” Menard said. “This plate racing deal is pretty tough right now. It’s kind of a hybrid of pack drafting and it’s not working out real well.”

Montoya said, “We were talking about it earlier. You always get those early wrecks. People are trying to make the race; trying to make crazy moves when they don’t really count when everybody is just really riding. Yes, we’re running three-wide, but you are making moves to see which lane moves and stuff. For everybody on our Target Chevy, it really sucks. We had an awesome race car and it’s pretty bad.”

(This story will be updated shortly)

| , RacinToday.com Thursday, February 23 2012
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