|With a bump from Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch loses control before the finish. (Glenn Smith/Associated Press)|
Stewart survives Daytona
Contact on final lap wrecks leader Busch, causes pileup
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Tony Stewart led lap after lap around Daytona International Speedway, using a flawless pit-road performance to inch closer to his second win as owner of his race team.
Then Kyle Busch slid outside in a last-lap bid to snatch the victory away from his former teammate.
The frantic 2.5-mile chase last night led to a violent wreck that sent Busch sailing into the wall while Stewart skirted by for a somber victory in the Coke Zero 400.
Stewart celebrated his 35th career Sprint Cup victory with a bit of heartache.
Busch left the speedway with a definite headache.
Just another wild restrictor-plate finish for NASCAR, which is still smarting from April’s frightening crash at Talladega Superspeedway, where Carl Edwards went airborne into the fence in a similar last-lap crash.
“That’s not the way I wanted to do it,’’ said Stewart, who won the summer Daytona race for the third time in five years.
Stewart usually takes every win any way he can. But after wrecking Busch in the frantic finish, he wasn’t in the mood to gloat.
“I am not shaken by it, it doesn’t matter who it is, you don’t want a race to be decided like that,’’ Stewart said. “It’s just a bad situation. I don’t feel as much gratification for winning the race as I should.’’
Busch passed Stewart right before the final lap to take the lead, but Stewart chased him down and calculated his next move. Stewart closed in on Busch’s bumper, and slight contact sent Busch drifting up the track.
Busch slid back down to maintain his lead, then tried to slide in front of Stewart to block Stewart’s next move. The cars were too close together and Stewart hooked Busch’s right corner to send Busch sailing into the wall.
It triggered a multiple-car crash behind them, but Stewart sailed through for his second points win of the season. The two-time series champion is leading the points in his first season as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, which he overhauled from a backmarker team into a title contender after 10 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I went where I had to go, and he went where he had to go,’’ Stewart said. “You hate seeing a guy that’s been up front all day, especially a guy that’s helped me the whole race, wreck like that. You’re kind of forced in that position. But I made my move to the outside and he went to block us and we were already there.
“It still doesn’t mean you like it. That’s not the way to win these things. If I did something wrong, I’m sorry.’’
It was a costly wreck for Busch, who climbed from his car apparently unscathed but had to be forced by four NASCAR officials into a waiting safety vehicle. He finished 14th and refused to comment after the race.
Team owner Joe Gibbs briefly checked on Busch, who needed intravenous fluids after driving a 70-minute stint in stifling heat earlier yesterday in his Grand-Am Series debut. Gibbs said Busch had a headache, and would be monitored overnight for precautionary reasons.
“It’s a tough place to race,’’ Gibbs said. “I felt like he gave it everything he could. I’m proud of him.’’
Jimmie Johnson was second, and Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate, finished third. Edwards was fourth, and Kurt Busch fifth.
But post-race was subdued as the competitors contemplated the dangers of restrictor-plate races. NASCAR uses the horsepower-sapping carburetor plates to slow the speeds at Daytona and Talladega, the two fastest tracks in the series.
This race was plagued with an earlier 13-car wreck that collected several contenders for the Chase for the championship.
“It’s plate racing. We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t,’’ Johnson said. “The guys are racing. Tony didn’t mean to dump him. It’s just the product of restrictor-plate racing.’’