Tony Stewart finally removed the Busch Series monkey from his back by clinching a first category win with a late-race pass on Daytona master Dale Earnhardt Jr at the 2005 season opener in Florida.

Taking full advantage of caution periods and a little draft from team-mate Kevin Harvick, Stewart recovered from another late-race incident, which saw him spinning across the grass, to close in on Earnhardt - the winner of the past three Daytona Busch races - and DEI team-mate Martin Truex Jr, who had taken control of the event. With Harvick still at close quarters, the #33 Mr. Clean Auto Dry Chevrolet driver then used the race's final restart to finally overcome the two leaders, heading a team 1-2 at the chequer.

"I wish I could take you guys through the last couple laps because the only thing I remember about it at this point is that we got a run," Stewart said afterwards, "The bottom was the place to be all day. Guys kept trying to make runs on the outside, but nobody could really, really make it stick out there. I knew I needed to get back down, and when I got back down on line, I was fourth or fifth.

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"Then I got a run on the backstretch and that thing was shot out of a cannon all of a sudden. I followed the middle of the hole there, went to the outside, got by Kevin, had enough momentum to get down to Junior, and was in the right spot, aero-wise, to pull his car back, pull mine forward, then break away from him and clear him. I wish I could give you more details, but I'm going to have to watch the tape myself just to see exactly what happened there!"

Such was Stewart's good humour at finally breaking his Busch duck after a string of second places, he even blamed himself for the incident with Carl Edwards that saw the #33 heading backwards across the infield.

"I made a mistake," he admitted, "I left the bottom open for Carl and then came down across his nose, put myself in the grass. I tore up the right front sliding back up the racetrack but, when we came in for a stop about six or seven laps later, the guys did an awesome job. I don't know what position we were in - I think we were eighth or tenth when we came in - but we came back out 17th. To fix the damage on the right front, get the fender pulled back out, get four tyres on it and get a can of gas in there, and get us out in 17th like that, that was an awesome job. If it wasn't for that stop, we probably wouldn't have had a chance to get back up where we did at the end of the day."

A last lap incident ensured that the race finished under yellow, allowing Harvick to complete a 1-2 for his self-owned team, after keeping Earnhardt and Truex at bay.

"I have no idea where the #33 came from," he smiled post-race, "But, if there was one coming, it was either the #33 or the #2 that was going to be okay.

"Victory is something that we've been working on for the last year or so, putting it together slowly. We put the trucks together with Matt Crafton and GM Goodwrench last year, and then decided to put Busch cars together. Tony wanted to drive, and Mr Clean came on board to support it. I'm excited for him. He's been close a lot of times, and deserved to win a lot more than he's won. Now, he's finally broken that wall down."

Asked about his own race, the owner-driver admitted that he had been more conservative than in other races at Daytona.

"Our car was good all day, but we kind of took a different strategy so that we didn't beat the fenders off - like we did last time," he revealed, "We just kind of hung out.

"Our car was really tight. We saved all our tyres during practice and had another set left there at the end. We came in and made some adjustments, came out and had a good pit-stop. We got that restart, and they all piled up behind me and I got out in front of Nemechek and was able to get up alongside of him. We got down and cleared the 81 and were able to come home second. All in all, it was a pretty good day."

Earnhardt and Truex finally claimed third and fourth places, ahead of Cup regulars Robby Gordon, who completed a Chevy top five. Kasey Kahne, Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle filled the next three places, ahead of the race's leading rookie, 19-year old Reed Sorenson.

"I was pretty happy - I thought I was going to be in good shape, then Tony came on around the outside," Jr said, "Harvick got going around the outside, then Tony got going around the outside of him. I don't know where he came from, but he had some nice tyres on. He is the only driver with a set of tyres left, and that paid off for him."

For Sorenson, ninth place provided a fourth top-ten finish in six Busch starts, but the teenager was still disappointed at the chequer.

"I was kind of upset that I ended ninth, but then I looked up at the scoreboard and realised that all those guys around me are Cup guys, so I'm pretty happy where we finished," he admitted, "I had a good time out there. It was my first time being in a pack like that, and my first run for me here - and the first run for our team. I think when we come back here in July, we'll have a pretty good shot to do the same thing."

Stewart's 'assailant' Edwards rounded out the top ten, while polewinner Joe Nemechek claimed an eventual 14th, still aching from his involvement in Harvick's Daytona Duel shunt with Jimmie Johnson on Thursday night. Paul Menard, who led 37 of the first 52 laps, came home three places further back after finding a lack of willing drafting partners.

"I don't think many if any people will argue the Menards/Pittsburgh Paints Chevrolet was the fastest car on the track today but, unfortunately, the high side of the track was where we had the best chance of moving up, and every time I tried to make a run up there, no-one would go with me," he lamented, "We got hung out to dry a few too many times.

"The car is a tribute to the guys at DEI and we could have run around on the bottom like everybody else all day long, but we would have burned up our brakes and never would have passed anybody. It was definitely frustrating how the day turned out, especially after we were running so well out front on our own during the first 50 laps or so, but it would sure help if we had some more friends out there!"

Champ Car convert Michel Jourdain Jr ended his first Busch Series race as third best rookie, but was only 25th at the flag.