Coke Zero 400: Stewart, Harvick execute game plan; can't pass Johnson

USA TODAY Sports

Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick may have been working as a tandem, but it still wasn’t enough to beat Jimmie Johnson at Daytona.

Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick are two of NASCAR's better restrictor-plate drivers, but even they couldn't find a way to pass winner Jimmie Johnson in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

The two, working in tandem for most of the final laps, attempted multiple times to push the other into the lead. But each time Johnson held off their charge and all Stewart and Harvick could do was settle for second and third, respectively.

Harvick thought he had as good a car as Johnson. But in a new dimension to racing at Daytona, Harvick said track position and the clean air that went with being in front were the reasons why Johnson was able to maintain his lead.

"I really thought we were in the right spot," Harvick said. "I thought if I could just hold Jimmie to Turn 1 that the pack would form behind us. Our line just never developed either time on the restart there with two different cars behind us.

"I'm a little disappointed because I really felt like we were in the right spot, but it's hard to complain."

For much of Saturday night Stewart and Harvick utilized the same strategy.

Not wanting to be swept up into an early wreck, they decided separately to lag back to avoid potential accidents. The game plan proved successful as attrition wilted down the field moving both up the running order.

"It worked out kind of the way we had planned," Stewart said. "I wanted to go to lap 110 and then try to start working our way forward and the caution ended up come out that set us up for that. We restarted behind Kevin I think at that point and got ourselves in the top 10 there and kind of kept working on it from there."

Running in back is a concept not everyone agrees with, but Stewart vehemently defended the practice post race. And considering how Saturday night played out, it's hard to be critical of his strategy.

"This is a 195 mph chess match and the lap that pays is lap 160," he said. "... You have to do what you think is in the best interest of you, your car, your team and your situation to get to the end, and part of winning races is knowing to be where at what times.

"I know some people don't like that and some people don't agree with it, but that's what I think is the best thing to do."

As typically happens in restrictor-plate races, multi-car wrecks tend to breakout in the back half of the field in the latter stages. And this is when being near the front proves advantageous. This was shown again Saturday with four accidents in the final 11 laps -- three involving five or more cars.

"Glad I was ahead of all the chaos," Stewart said. "It worked out kind of the way we had planned."

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