DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A multi-car accident knocked out several of NASCAR's top names in the season-opening Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Among those involved were Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick, and Tony Stewart, in his first race since returning from a broken leg sustained in an August crash. No drivers were injured, including Stewart, who climbed from his car slowly.
"I was a little nervous about it because I knew we were going to hit nose-first," Stewart said. "But it doesn't feel bad at all. It doesn't have any pain. We'll see when the adrenalin wears off here in about an hour. So far it feels good. I didn't think it was going to feel that good when I hit but everything my guys have done to try to make it as comfortable as they can in the car obviously paid off."
Stewart missed the final 15 races of 2013 after breaking two bones in his right leg. Although he suffered a jarring hit Saturday night, the three-time Cup champion is unconcerned about not being ready for the Feb. 23 Daytona 500.
"If we can make it through that, I'm confident we're not going to have any issues for the (Daytona 500)," he said. "That's the positive out of the negative, I guess."
The incident began on Lap 35 when Matt Kenseth darted low to stunt the momentum of Joey Logano. Kenseth clipped the nose of Logano and contact between the two ignited a chain-reaction crash that ultimately collected nine cars, including those of Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch.
In an effort to avoid the melee, Patrick drove through a portion of the infield causing her to spin. Her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had significant damage himself, then drove into the side of Patrick's machine, ripping away the left-side door. Stenhouse had no idea it was his girlfriend's car he impacted until the two were in the infield care center.
"I didn't see anything from the time it started to the time it ended," Stenhouse said. "... I drilled her when she was pretty much sitting still. I couldn't see, couldn't turn and just really destroyed our (car)."
Kenseth took blame for being the instigator.
"I had no idea anybody was inside of me or had that run, I was watching my mirror," Kenseth said. "... I just feel bad all of those cars got wrecked. That's not the way you want to start a season for sure."
The consensus among those involved was that the accident was a byproduct of the restrictor-plate madness that usually consumes racing at Daytona. There were no hard feelings among any of the participants.
"This race is about aggression," Edwards said. "It's about going out there and just keeping your foot down and racing hard and we all know that there is about a 50 percent chance that this could happen.
"That's a shame that Matt got into Joey there. That's a rare mistake at one of these places for him. If it wasn't for that, I think this thing could have been a lot of cars racing really hard for a long time. It was going really well."