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Stewart repeats at Daytona.

Tony Stewart successfully defended his Pepsi 400 crown in dominant fashion at the Daytona International Speedway although it was rank outsider Boris Said who nearly stole the show on Saturday night.

He may not have led the number of laps that he did during the 2005 Pepsi 400 but Stewart and his #20 Joe Gibbs Racing team still had the car to beat around the 2.5-mile Daytona oval as the orange Home Depot backed Chevrolet led more than half of the 160 laps that made up the 17th round of the 2006 Nextel Cup Championship.

However despite his dominance, Stewart came within two laps of missing out on the win as a late pitstop gamble by the new #60 No Fear Racing team put polesitter Boris Said at the head of the pack with just nine laps remaining. Amazingly, on older tyres Said was able to keep the nose of his #60 Ford ahead of the rest of the field as Stewart battled his way from ninth on the restart to second before the caution flag waved again for the biggest crash of the evening with six tours remaining.

Despite his best efforts Said was no match for Stewart, who had earlier taken the lead away from the poleman on the opening lap and had proceeded to string the field out whenever possible thereafter. After getting a brief jump on the pack when the green flag waved on lap 157 it took Stewart until turn three on the restart lap to draw alongside Said and despite one concerted effort to block the defending Cup Series champion Stewart was through and away.

Stewart's decisiveness proved fortunate, for as the field took the white flag, debris was spotted in turn three to bring out the yellows once again and deny the 150,000 strong Daytona crowd a green flag finish. As Stewart had already taken the white flag there would be no green-white-chequered flag finish although after proving to be virtually impossible to pass all evening it is unlikely that the result would have been any different had the race gone into overtime.

The defending champ didn't have things all his own way though and for much of the night he ploughed a lone furrow against the might of Roush Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. At one point all four Hendrick entries occupied the top four slots with four of the five Roush cars also in the top ten. But after a night largely devoid of accidents, a flurry of late caution periods decimated the combined Hendrick and Roush assault.

First to go was points leader and Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, who collected the very impressive Bobby Labonte in turn three with 14 laps remaining. Although Johnson was able to continue without losing a lap, his damaged car could do little but trail around at the tail of the field thereafter.

Less than ten laps later it was Johnson's teammate Jeff Gordon's turn to be swept up in a wreck, triggered when JJ Yeley ran into the back of a wandering Greg Biffle heading into turn one. With nowhere to go Gordon joined Biffle's teammates Mark Martin and Carl Edwards in the crash as inside ten laps half of the Hendrick team and three-fifths of the Roush squad had suffered damage that put paid to their chances.

It wasn't all bad news for NASCAR's two 'uber-teams' as Hendrick's Kyle Busch followed Stewart passed Said to take second place with the help of his elder brother Kurt, who overcame a battery change to take third. Said held on to a fantastic fourth place despite running most of the race outside the top 30 while Elliott Sadler overcame a pit road collision with Biffle and Martin Truex Jr to take fifth spot.



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