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BUSCH: Stewart breaks duck at Daytona.

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.

"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.


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