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.
Final Laps: 15 cars wreck as Stewart wins (via TheOfficialNASCAR)
Post-Race Reactions: Coke Zero 400 (via TheOfficialNASCAR)
|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