Chaotic Finish Gives Stewart The Victory At Daytona
By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Correspondent
Daytona Beach, Fla. – Restrictor plate racing at its hotly contested best – or worst – broke out again at the checkered flag at Daytona. By time the race ground to a halt, Kyle Busch’s car looked like it had been to the junkyard crusher after losing a duel with winner Tony Stewart. In victory lane, Stewart sounded like he’d been through the wringer himself.
“If I did get into him I’m sorry,” said a conciliatory Stewart of his former teammate, Busch, who walked away from his totaled Toyota. “But I don’t think that I did.”
Busch took the lead coming to the white flag, but couldn’t hold the top spot coming to the checkers in the tri-oval bend. He first tried to block Stewart to the low side. After feinting low, Stewart began to draft past on the outside
“I got up beside the quarter panel and that’s what you do in that situation,” said Stewart. “I didn’t expect him to come up and when he did that turned him.”
The ensuing contact sent Busch into the outside wall before his car was hit twice as the field came to the start/finish.
Kasey Kahne lifted Busch’s car off its rear wheels when he rammed it with his Dodge. Joey Logano then nailed it on the driver’s side between the front wheel and door.
Carl Edwards, whose Ford was knocked into a brief liftoff during a similar duel for the lead at Talladega in April, called the finish “insane” after crossing the line in fourth.
Runner-up Jimmie Johnson said it was damned if you do or don’t, because of the restrictor plates used at Daytona and Talladega. “They were just racing,” he said of his fellow Chevrolet driver. “Tony didn’t mean to get into him.”
After Busch’s crumpled car slid across the line in 14th, he made no comment when leaving the infield care center. Initially, he tried to walk toward victory lane to confront Stewart, but was held in check by officials.
“I’m not pointing any fingers at Tony,” said Busch’s crew chief, Steve Addington, who watched his driver take the lead from Stewart coming to the white flag only to lose it a lap later. “He was trying to win the race, Kyle was trying to block him for the win and we got turned around.”
In the post-race media center interview, Stewart was more composed but still not celebratory after seeing video replays. Notorious for his angry outbursts, the Chevy driver’s new role as a team co-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing has mellowed him, he acknowledged.
“I don’t feel as much gratification from winning the race as I probably should,” he said. “I don’t want any part of earning the victory because the guy who was leading the race got wrecked.” But Stewart went on to say neither driver did anything wrong. “He’s protecting his position, which he’s got to do.”
Points-leader Stewart started from the pole after qualifying was rained out and led 86 of the 160 laps. But he admitted to slowing down too much in Turns 3 and 4 coming to the white flag in an effort to keep second-placed Busch from drifting back for a slingshot pass in the draft.
“That was my mistake,” said Stewart. “He had been setting that up for a couple of laps.” But it was the Toyota driver who then got too far in front on the final lap, enabling Stewart to close quickly in the draft at the exit of Turn 4.
The new double-file restart rule influenced the outcome. It helped Stewart keep Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, whose Toyota led 63 laps, from ganging up with Busch on re-starts. “I thought Denny Hamlin had the strongest car,” said Stewart. Leaders re-starting in a single file would have made it easier for Hamlin and Busch to run in tandem to set up a pass on leader Stewart.
Usually, Hamlin started to the outside of Stewart and Busch was behind him in third. “Kyle was the guy I chose to re-start behind me all day,” said Stewart, “and he’s somebody I worked well with all day.”
Before the crash-marred finish, the race was hard on several drivers trying to stay in the top 12 points position in the Chase for the Championship. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s chances are remote after getting collected in the 13-car incident on lap 78; he finished 39th and was 21st in the points. Earlier, contact sent Mark Martin spinning into the inside retaining wall and dropped him from 11th to 13th place behind Kahne.
– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.One Comment