8 July 2012
Stewart out-foxes Kenseth to win at Daytona
Tony Stewart recovered from a back row starting position and overcame the dominant car of the evening when he deprived Matt Kenseth of his drafting partner as a critical restart.
Tony Stewart rebounded from having his qualifying times deleted for a technical infringement and losing his hard-won front row starting position, to winning the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway under the floodlights on Saturday evening.
The race started with a moment of high drama off-track, with news of AJ Allmendinger's suspension forcing Penske Racing to fly in replacement driver Sam Hornish Jr. from North Carolina. Hornish was sped in from the airport with just three minutes to spare before the cars started to roll off pit road, and the team were still strapping him in while the rest of the field carried out their routine formation laps.
After that, it was down to routine business with Matt Kenseth leading the field to the green flag alongside Stewart's team mate Ryan Newman who had inherited his boss's front row position when Stewart was sent to the back of the field for the start.
Surprisingly given the nature of draft racing at Daytona, Kenseth had no trouble leading uninterrupted for the first 41 laps of the race, thanks to linking up early with his current Roush Fenway team mate Greg Biffle. Other drivers were employing different strategies: Jeff Burton was heading to the safety of the back of the field where he linked up with his similarly-minded Richard Childress Racing team mate Kevin Harvick, who could have been forgiven for having his mind elsewhere after being on amber alert for his wife DeLana being close to giving birth to the couple's first child.
The leading dozen cars were running in single file and covered by less than a second all told, with the biggest problem early on being Kyle Busch's radio comms glitch preventing him from talking with his pit crew. Other drivers were getting concerned about escalating water and engine temperatures, but that's just the usual background mood music for any Daytona Cup race.
Kenseth finally gave up the lead when it came time for the first round of green flag pit stops. Kenseth came out of that cycle in sixth place, with the top five taken up by Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr., but it only took a couple more laps before Kenseth found his team mate again and pushed him to the front, and Biffle stayed out front through to the next round of pit stops despite Kenseth finding pushing was harder on his water temperature than being pushed at the front had been.
Those next pit stops coincided with the first caution of the day on lap 81 just after mid-distance, triggered when Sam Hornish Jr. had a tyre blow on the #22 and spun him out of turn 2. Despite stopping under the slightly calmer conditions of the ensuing yellow, there were problems on pit road for Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon who made contact as they swerved to avoid Kasey Kahne exiting his own pit box: the collision was hard enough to spin Newman into Brad Keselowski's parked car in its stall, where the #2 was being worked on after hitting debris from Hornish's accident. Fortunately, no pit personnel were injured in the aftermath of the fracas.
Kenseth and Biffle were back in charge of the race once again when green flags resumed on lap 86, but there was a second caution of the night just five laps later when Kurt Busch tried a move down the middle, tapped Trevor Bayne and sparked an accident that also involved Bobby Labonte and Denny Hamlin among others. Perhaps fittingly, Busch's #51 car ended up the most beaten up and distinctly worse for wear.
“Kurt was just racing hard,” said Busch's crew chief at Phoenix Racing, Nick Harrison. “The way you race in packs here, it's really tight. When guys are trying to battle over the same territory, that sort of stuff just happens. It was unlucky and he's down on himself a little bit, but he's fine ... He wanted to win and he wanted to sweep the weekend, and that's what we love about him.”
Tagged as: Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Daytona , Clint Bowyer , Ryan Newman , Matt Kenseth , Jeff Burton , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Kevin Harvick , Brad Keselowski , Jimmie Johnson , Sam Hornish Jr.
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