Stewart gets win in wild finish at Daytona
5 July 2009
Tony Stewart said he didn't want to win Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 Sprint Cup race the way he won it.
Kyle Busch certainly didn't want to lose the race the way he lost it.
Nonetheless, Stewart crossed the finish line at Daytona International Speedway, Jimmie Johnson in tow, moments after contact between Stewart and Busch sent Busch spinning hard into the front-stretch wall.
Though Stewart won his second race of the season, his second as an owner/driver for Stewart-Haas Racing and the 35th of his career, he was ambivalent about the win as he climbed from his car in victory lane.
With a push from team-mate Denny Hamlin, Busch had taken the lead approaching the white flag and held it through turn four of the final lap. But Stewart drove his #14 Chevrolet up to the left rear of Busch's #18 Toyota off the corner, forcing Busch to go to the bottom of the track to maintain control of his car.
As Busch slid back up to block Stewart, contact with Stewart's car turned Busch into the wall and ignited a dramatic multicar wreck near the finish line. Hamlin finished third, Carl Edwards fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.
“I went where I had to go, and he went where he had to go,” Stewart said. “He went to block us, and we were already there. ... It doesn't matter who it is, you don't want a race to be decided like that.
“I just don't feel as much gratification from winning this race as I probably should, I guess, because I don't like the way the outcome happened. I don't want any part of winning a race because the guy who was leading got wrecked.”
Watching a replay of the incident didn't soothe Stewart's feelings completely.
“I don't know that we did anything wrong,” he said. “I've seen replays of it, and he was protecting his position, which he's got to do. That's what he has to do as a driver. He can't just sit there and let us make a move like that and not try to defend it.
“You don't want to see somebody that ran up front all day lose that many spots and lose an opportunity to win because of an accident like that coming to the chequered flag.”
Johnson had a front-row seat for the accident but didn't see a way to avoid it.
“Tony didn't mean to dump him,” Johnson said. “It's just the product of restrictor-plate racing. Every time we use the restrictor-plate tracks, there's questions about how we can keep from having the big wreck and things like that, and you just can't. When you run plates, and we run wide open all the way around the track, situations like this come around.”
Busch, who slid across the finish line in 14th place, climbed from his wrecked car at the end of the tri-oval and began walking down pit road as Stewart completed his cool-down lap and entered pit road from the opposite end. NASCAR officials restrained Busch and prompted him toward a truck that transported him to the infield care centre, where he was examined and released.
Busch declined comment to the media after the race.
Were it not for trouble to most of the Chase “bubble” drivers, Mark Martin's postseason aspirations might have suffered a significant setback, thanks to a wreck on lap 13 that relegated him to a 38th-place finish and dropped him two spots in the standings to 13th. The top twelve qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
As Martin exited turn two, Matt Kenseth gained momentum to the outside, and Martin's Chevy wasn't clear of Kenseth's Ford when Martin moved up the track. Martin's car spun into the infield and sustained serious damage.
“Matt ran the top side there and got a run up off the corner, and I was just trying to keep it down and leave us room, and I just pinched him,” Martin said. “Front wheels were cut, and it just didn't turn quite enough. My fault.”
Martin's wreck was nothing, however, compared with the 13-car pileup on lap 77 that eliminated Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Contact between the Dodges of Kasey Kahne and David Stremme triggered the wreck, but the cars of Earnhardt and David Reutimann perhaps were the most severely damaged, as Reutimann slid up the track into Earnhardt's path.
“A couple of guys got together, and I just tried to stay high, and the #00 (Reutimann) was crossed up, and we got together with him pretty hard and tore the upper A-frame off the chassis,” said Earnhardt, who finished 39th.
Reutimann entered the race 14th in the standings, twelve points out of twelfth. He finished 36th Saturday, and although still 14th, he is now 74 points behind Kasey Kahne, who moved up a spot to twelfth with a 15th-place finish.
Jeff Gordon was another victim of the lap 77 wreck but was able to continue. Though his car was damaged too severely to contend for the win, Gordon stayed on the lead lap and finished 28th, just enough to maintain second place in points, 180 behind Stewart and 14 ahead of Johnson in third.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News