Tony Stewart finally caught a break - because his #80 Chevrolet didn't break loose on the last lap of Saturday's season-opening Camping World 300 Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
Kyle Busch pushed Stewart's hendrickcars.com Chevy down the backstretch and up the banking in turn three of the final circuit, but Stewart fought back to the outside and crossed the finish line first. Clint Bowyer pushed Carl Edwards into second place off the final corner, with Bowyer coming home third.
Busch fell to fourth at the finish. Greg Biffle ran fifth, followed by Brian Vickers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Ragan, Jason Keller and Matt Kenseth.
The win, Stewart's second straight in the season opener at Daytona, was at least some consolation for the calamity that devoured two of Stewart's cars in Saturday morning's Sprint Cup practice for Sunday's Daytona 500.
Ryan Newman, Stewart's teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, blew a right rear tyre and spun midway through the session, collecting Stewart's own #14 Chevy in the process. Both Cup cars were damaged seriously enough to force the two drivers to backup cars for the 500, where they'll start from the rear of the field.
"After this morning, it's great," Stewart said of his eighth victory in 87 Nationwide starts. "We lost both of our cars for the Daytona 500 this morning with Ryan and I, and it's a good way to rebound from it - come out here and win a race."
It took all of Stewart's consummate skill to keep from losing control of his car as Busch pushed him through turn three.
"It got really, really loose," Stewart said. "Kyle pushed me all the way through the corner. If I'd have spun or crashed, I was going to have to have it out with him on that one.
"I don't know how I held on to it, but I think he kind of cut us a break off of (turn four) and kind of let us back in."
Edwards, seeking to add another Nationwide title to his 2007 championship, had a front-row seat for all the last-lap action.
"The #18 (Busch) pushed the #80 down the back straightaway," Edwards said. "They got in the corner. He pushed him all the way up. I thought, 'Man, this is it; we're going to have a run.'
"Coming off (turn) 4, I was a little too close. Clint was right on my bumper, pushed me right by Kyle. He gave me like the half-inch I needed there…
"Then we got all straightened out, coming to the line. Same deal. Clint was still pushing me. I had a little run on Tony. He came up. I thought, 'Man, we're going to - this is going to be smoke and walls and all that.' But it ended up he gave me enough room, and I still ended up second."
The #80 on Stewart's car represented the number of Rick Hendrick's automobile franchises. Michael McDowell in 14th was the highest finishing rookie, edging Brendan Gaughan by one position.by Reid Spencer/Sporting News