Instant Reactions: Tony Stewart Wins Crashfest at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 07: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. - Tony Stewart has won every race imaginable at Daytona International Speedway except the Daytona 500. That trend continued on Saturday night when Stewart held off a race dominant Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton to win his fourth Coke Zero 400.

But Stewart didn't look like the winner early on as Kenseth and Greg Biffle placed a monopoly on the top spot, leading a combined 125-of-160 laps. But tandem drafting on the final restart changed the complexion of the race and separated the Roush teammates coming to the white flag.

Kenseth chose to fall back and pick up his teammate, allowing Stewart and Kasey Kahne to make a run on the outside.

That set off a chain reaction where third place on back was grouped together and Kenseth was forced to stay in the gas and make a charge to the front. The final accident occurred directly behind Kenseth, and Stewart and Jeff Burton both beat Kenseth back to the finish line.

Stewart staying ahead of several late accident was the key to victory. His Stewart-Hass No. 14 was one of the few cars that made it through each crash.

"The track position Steve [Addington] got us was key," Stewart said. "I mean, if we got stuck fourth or fifth on back, we were going to be one of those cars that got caught in the wreck. Fortunately we were ahead of the crashes both times."

Stewart initially qualified second, but his time was disallowed after NASCAR found his car to be illegal in post qualifying technical inspection. The inspection found an open cooling hose trailing into the cockpit, believed to provide an aerodynamic advantage, and Stewart was sent to the rear of the field for the start of the race.

This makes what Stewart was able to do in avoiding all the major accidents even more incredible. The win is Stewart's third and now ties him with Brad Keselowski with the most in the Sprint Cup Series. This will prove to be most invaluable once the Chase begins after Richmond. Race victories will seed the championship contenders entering the playoff's first race at Chicagoland Speedway.

The victory also gives Tony Stewart 18 wins at Daytona and 47 career wins overall, giving him sole possession of 14th on the all-time wins list, surpassing Buck Baker.

A complete finishing order as well as my thoughts on the current restrictor plate package can be found after the jump.

Unlike last night's Nationwide Series race, the Sprint Cup Series formula needs a few adjustments. Kenseth led the first 44 laps from the pole and was not passed until green flag pit stops started. Kenseth and Biffle hugged the double yellow lines and the outside line was unable to make any progress. This gave the drivers two options:

  • Ride single-file and follow-the-leader to keep water and oil temperatures in check
  • Two-or-three-wide racing which ultimately leads to big multi-car accidents

Neither option is particularly compelling. Sure the big wrecks look "cool" but you don't want the drivers in harm's way and true racing shouldn't be decided purely on survival. The current format is a lottery and there's nothing particularly fulfilling about it.

I was initially in favor of eliminating the tandem drafting, but this isn't the same pack that many of us fell in love with from about 2000 until the repave of both Daytona and Talladega. I believe most fans enjoyed plate racing that involves both lines capable of making progress, shuffling the leaders, and not forcing a big crash every time a contender decides to step out and force a pass.

The two-car tandem wasn't flawed in its presentation. It was flawed just on its underside, where races are won and lost based on politics and the union of which engine manufacturer you drive for (I'm looking at you, Trevor Bayne and Jack Roush).

But ultimately, the big pack was brought back due to fan demand. Is this the style of racing you prefer or were you looking for something else? Tell us in our comments section below.

Audiovisual

Final Laps: 15 cars wreck as Stewart wins (via TheOfficialNASCAR)

Post-Race Reactions: Coke Zero 400 (via TheOfficialNASCAR)

Starting Line Up by Row UPDATED
Daytona International Speedway
54th Annual Coke Zero 400
Provided by NASCAR Statistics - Fri, July 06, 2012 @ 07:03 PM Eastern
Track Race Record: Matt Kenseth 02/23/12 12:46:23 194.175
Row Pos Car Driver Team Time Speed
1 1 17 Matt Kenseth Zest Ford 46.781 192.386
2 39 Ryan Newman Aspen Dental Chevrolet 46.789 192.353
2 3 5 Kasey Kahne HendrickCars.com Chevrolet 46.804 192.291
4 16 Greg Biffle 3M Ford 46.841 192.139
3 5 24 Jeff Gordon PepsiMax Chevrolet 46.860 192.061
6 50 Bill Elliott Walmart Chevrolet 46.872 192.012
4 7 13 Casey Mears GEICO Ford 46.891 191.934
8 22 AJ Allmendinger Shell Pennzoil Dodge 46.901 191.894
5 9 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Dodge 46.910 191.857
10 9 Marcos Ambrose DeWalt Ford 46.918 191.824
6 11 29 Kevin Harvick Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet 46.924 191.800
12 99 Carl Edwards Subway Ford 46.946 191.710
7 13 27 Paul Menard Quaker State / Menards Chevrolet 46.953 191.681
14 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Target Chevrolet 46.978 191.579
8 15 21 Trevor Bayne(i) Motorcraft/QuickLaneTire&AutoCenter Ford 46.998 191.498
16 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's Chevrolet 47.003 191.477
9 17 43 Aric Almirola U.S. Air Force Ford 47.054 191.270
18 56 Martin Truex Jr. NAPA Batteries Toyota 47.060 191.245
10 19 20 Joey Logano Dollar General Toyota 47.064 191.229
20 31 Jeff Burton Wheaties Chevrolet 47.097 191.095
11 21 98 Mike Bliss(i) Phil Parsons Racing Ford 47.124 190.985
22 18 Kyle Busch Interstate Batteries Toyota 47.134 190.945
12 23 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Office Toyota 47.140 190.921
24 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Natl. Guard-An American Salute Chevrolet 47.158 190.848
13 25 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row / Farm American Chevrolet 47.190 190.718
26 30 David Stremme Stock Car Steel and Aluminum Toyota 47.203 190.666
14 27 34 David Ragan MHP 8-hour Alert Ford 47.215 190.617
28 55 Michael Waltrip Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota 47.220 190.597
15 29 15 Clint Bowyer 5-hour Energy Toyota 47.230 190.557
30 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops / NRA Museum Chevrolet 47.231 190.553
16 31 26 Josh Wise # MDS Transport Ford 47.325 190.174
32 38 David Gilliland Glory Foods Ford 47.335 190.134
17 33 36 Dave Blaney Golden Corral Chevrolet 47.339 190.118
34 32 Terry Labonte C & J Energy Services Ford 47.357 190.046
18 35 51 Kurt Busch Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet 47.370 189.994
36 87 Joe Nemechek(i) AM/FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves Toyota 47.450 189.673
19 37 33 Stephen Leicht # LittleJoesAutos.com Chevrolet 47.690 188.719
38 83 Landon Cassill Burger King / Dr Pepper Toyota 47.699 188.683
20 39 10 David Reutimann CarportEmpire.com/TMone.com Chevrolet 47.733 188.549
40 93 Travis Kvapil Burger King / Dr Pepper Toyota 47.888 187.939
21 41 47 Bobby Labonte Kingsford Charcoal Toyota Owner Points
42 14 Tony Stewart MOBIL 1 / Office Depot Chevrolet 0.000 0.000
22 43 49 JJ Yeley Robinson-Blakney Racing Toyota 48.123 187.021

Did Not Qualify: # 23 Robert Richardson Jr.(i).

Manufacturer Starting Lineup DNQs Manufacturer Starting Lineup DNQs
Chevrolet 17 1 Ford 12 0

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