Daytona 500: Tony Stewart race report

STRONG SPEEDWEEKS SOURS FOR STEWART IN DAYTONA 500 Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Finishes Disappointing 22nd in Sprint Cup Season-Opener Tony Stewart capped what had been a strong Daytona (Fla.) Speedweeks with a disappointing 22nd-place...

STRONG SPEEDWEEKS SOURS FOR STEWART IN DAYTONA 500
Office Depot/Old Spice Driver Finishes Disappointing 22nd in Sprint Cup Season-Opener

Tony Stewart capped what had been a strong Daytona (Fla.) Speedweeks with a disappointing 22nd-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) came into the 52nd running of the Great American Race having won yesterday's NASCAR Nationwide Series event and finishing second in his Gatorade Duel qualifying race on Thursday and ninth in the non-points Budweiser Shootout last Saturday. But an equally strong run in the Daytona 500 never materialized for Stewart as he grappled with a tight handling racecar throughout the 208-lap race, which was extended eight laps past its scheduled distance by a green-white-checkered finish.

"It wasn't very good for us," said Stewart of his Daytona 500 outing. "We just missed. I'm not sure what we missed, but we'll figure it out."

Also missing was a portion of the racetrack, as a chunk of asphalt came apart in turn two of the 2.5-mile oval not once, but twice, causing two red flag stoppages that collectively totaled 145 minutes. As a result, the race lasted more than six hours and finished under the lights after starting at 1 p.m. EST.

"NASCAR did the best job they could with it. I mean, what can you think about? It is what it is," said Stewart, a track operator himself as he owns Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. "It's not something that you plan for, but obviously NASCAR has done a lot of preparation in case something like that happens. They were prepared for it. The hard part is, you have to fix it, and they did a good job of that, especially in a crisis situation."

Once the track was ready for action after the second red flag period, it was a sprint to the finish with drivers slipping and sliding through the track's corners. In the last 39 laps that followed the final red flag, the yellow caution flag waved three times for 10 laps for three separate multi-car accidents.

Escaping all the carnage was Jamie McMurray, who won the Daytona 500 to score the biggest victory of his eight-year Sprint Cup career. It was his fourth career Sprint Cup win, his third in a restrictor-plate race and his second at Daytona.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished .119 of a second behind McMurray, while Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and David Reutimann rounded out the top-five. Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were nine caution periods for 40 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish.

Stewart's SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, finished 34th after getting collected in a lap-194 accident on the backstretch that left his No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet immobile. Newman was seen and released from the infield care center without injury.

With 35 races still ahead of him, Stewart leaves Daytona 23rd in the championship standings, 93 points arrears McMurray, the series leader. Newman is 34th in points, 129 points out of first.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Feb. 21 Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The race starts at 3 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m.

-source: shr/tsc

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Series NASCAR-CUP