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Stewart out-foxes Kenseth to win at Daytona

The race then ran green for almost 30 laps, with Kenseth leading every single one of them in what was looking like a totally dominating performance for him and Biffle. However, things were starting to pick up pace as the race entered its final quarter: the field was starting to break out of single-file traffic and go three-wide as the jockeying for position got underway in earnest and the drivers started worked diligently to make that middle groove work for them in just the way that it hadn't yet been able to for Kurt Busch.

While Kenseth had stolen the limelight till now, there were growing threats moving into place behind him. One of them was Tony Stewart, who had worked his way up from the back of the grid to seventh place, and two others were Hendrick Motorsports team mates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But it was not to be Johnson's night: on lap 125, he was involved in the first big multi-car wreck of the night along with Jeff Gordon, Regan Smith, Bill Elliott and Joey Logano in turn 4: the #48 was driven into the inside SAFER barrier where it made a big impact and the front of Johnson's car scrunched up like a cheap cartoon accordion.

"We were all getting ready to pit so I was waving my hand out the window down the backstretch through 3 and 4," explained Johnson. "As soon as I let off the gas to come to pit road, someone got into the back of me. I don't know if they didn't see my hand waving or what really went on, but I was just trying to get slowed down to come onto pit road and I got hit from behind. I went down on the inside wall. As I was spinning, I could see a lot of other cars were collected too."

The timing was a disaster for the two men who had dominated the race up till then: Biffle had been heading to pit road when the accident broke out and was too late to abort, meaning he got a penalty for coming in while pit lane was closed. That set him all the way back to 18th place, and broke up his effective partnership with Kenseth who dropped down the field to rejoin him, but at the cost of losing a lot of track positon just as things were heating up.

Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart were at the front for the restart on lap 131 with Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin in support. Stewart won the battle for the lead at the restart and went in front for the next 20 laps, but clearly worried about the possibility of getting ganged up on by the swelling number of Joe Gibbs Racing team mates in his rear view mirror. And there was another worry as well, with Kenseth and Biffle moving their way determinedly back toward the front and switching to using the high line to do it.

There was a brief caution for Keselowski spinning on the backstretch on lap 144, but that only delayed the inevitable confrontation for the lead between Stewart and Kenseth for the lead which came on lap 151. Kenseth had just about pulled off the pass when a trademark Daytona multi-car wreck erupted behind them: seemingly triggered by slight contact between Biffle and Hamlin, which then got Hamlin loose and shooting down into his JGR team mate Kyle Busch after which it was just mayhem as the rest of the field piled in. Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, David Gilliland, Marcos Ambrose and Terry Labonte were all caught up in the incident.

That set up a final two-lap showdown between Kenseth and Stewart for the win. Despite still having the #16 of Biffle as his drafting support, Kenseth in the #17 found that he couldn't match Stewart's pace on the outside line. With help from Kasey Kahne, the #14 car disrupted the smooth hook-up of his Roush rivals and was able to pull out into the lead as they ran the final lap - and then the race was over, the chequered flag flying for Stewart as carnage erupted once again right behind the leaders. This time the casualties included Biffle, Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Terry Labonte, Aric Almirola, Jamie McMurray, Travis Kvapil and others. It was going to be an expensive night at the bodyshop.

But the accident had come late enough that no green-white-chequered restarts were required: the race was officially run, and Tony Stewart had won.

“The biggest challenge was the #17 and #16 cars - when they hooked up, I don't think there was anybody that could beat them,” Stewart admitted of Kenseth and Biffle's formidable combination. "But we were able to stay in touch with them, and I got a great restart with Kasey Kahne helping me.




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