Strong Daytona Speedweeks Continues For Stewart; After Finishing Third in Shootout, Nabs Second in Gatorade Duel Tony Stewart's countdown to the 51st Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway continued Thursday with a strong ...
Strong Daytona Speedweeks Continues For Stewart; After Finishing Third in Shootout, Nabs Second in Gatorade Duel
Tony Stewart's countdown to the 51st Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway continued Thursday with a strong second-place finish in the Gatorade Duel -- twin qualifying races that set the 43-car field for the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Stewart was one of 56 drivers vying for a spot in the Great American Race, with 28 drivers in each 150-mile sprint.
The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS started sixth in the first Gatorade Duel and led laps 57 and 58 of the 60-lap race, but was passed by Jeff Gordon on the frontstretch with two laps remaining. Stewart finished .205 of a second behind Gordon, which means the two-time Sprint Cup champion will start fifth in the Daytona 500.
"Man, I'm just so proud of Darian Grubb (crew chief) and everybody on the Office Depot/Old Spice team," said Stewart, who notched his ninth top-five finish in 11 career Gatorade Duel races. "We've had an awesome driving car the whole time we've been here. We finished third last Saturday in the Budweiser Shootout and second today. It's unbelievable."
This is Stewart's inaugural season as a driver/owner, with Stewart-Haas Racing his new home after spending his entire 12-year NASCAR career with Joe Gibbs Racing. His No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet is out of top-35 in points, which means he had to earn his way into the starting field. Stewart did that on Sunday during time trials, as he posted the third-quickest time of those outside the top-35 and the 10th fastest overall.
"We knew we were locked in on time," said Stewart, who in a worst-case scenario had a provisional starting spot to fall back on as the most recent Sprint Cup champion. "It was just a matter of having a good run and getting the car to drive well, and it did, right off the bat. We got up there and stayed in the top-three and led some laps. We feel like we've got a good car for Sunday now."
Stewart started sixth and moved to third by lap 12. He stayed in that spot until his final pit stop of the day on lap 50 when Grubb called Stewart to the pits during a caution for four fresh tires.
With several teams opting for only two tires, Stewart restarted in ninth, but he quickly proved that four tires was the way to go as he rose to fifth by lap 55. He then drove his No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy to the high side of the racetrack and moved into first on lap 57.
With three laps remaining, Stewart was locked in a fierce battle for the win with Gordon, who managed to take the lead from Stewart on the frontstretch with two laps to go and hold on for the victory.
"We just kept getting so far ahead that we were getting too big of a run," Stewart said. "Jeff would get out and then he'd get too far ahead, and then we'd get a run on him. With that short of a race, you've got to try and win the thing, so we just kept going around. We'd get too far ahead and then Jeff would get the run on us. But he wasn't trying to run us into the infield and didn't try to run us up (the track). That's what made today fun."
Finishing third behind Gordon and Stewart in the first Gatorade Duel was three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Rookie Joey Logano and Aric Almirola rounded-out the top-five, while Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Stewart's teammate -- Ryan Newman -- started second in the second Gatorade Duel and finished a disappointing 24th after being involved in an accident on the backstretch on lap 48. His No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet nosed hard into the outside wall after being tagged from behind by another driver. Newman was uninjured in the accident, but his primary racecar was deemed irreparable. As a result, the team was forced to unload their backup, which means despite earning the 36th starting spot, they'll drop to the rear of the field during the opening pace laps of the Daytona 500 and start last.
Kyle Busch won the second Gatorade Duel by .153 of a second over Mark Martin. Brian Vickers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin took spots three through five. The rest of the top-10 consisted of Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeremy Mayfield and A.J. Allmendinger.
With the Gatorade Duel races now complete, the field for the Daytona 500 is set. On the pole is Martin Truex Jr., and alongside him is Martin. By notching the two quickest times during time trials last Sunday, both drivers were able to lock themselves into the front row for the Daytona 500. All the remaining drivers, however, had to race their way to a starting spot via the Gatorade Duel.
Those who didn't make the cut and will be forced to watch the Daytona 500 from the sidelines are Joe Nemechek, Boris Said, Brad Keselowski, Kirk Shelmerdine, Mike Wallace, Tony Raines, Mike Garvey, Derrike Cope, Mike Skinner, Kelly Bires, Carl Long, Geoff Bodine and Norm Benning.