Stewart Dominates for Second Straight at Daytona
Leads Six Times for a Race-High 86 Laps to Secure Back-to-Back Pepsi 400 Wins
For 42 other drivers in Saturday night's Pepsi 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, it was déjà vu all over again. Just as he did last year, Tony Stewart dominated the Fourth of July weekend race.
The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet started from the outside of row one and led six times for a race-high 86 laps to secure his 26th career Nextel Cup victory. In the 2005 edition of the Pepsi 400, Stewart started from the pole and led all but nine of the race's 160 laps. Altogether, Stewart has led 237 of 320 laps (74 percent).
"Our car was good," said Stewart. "We were way too loose the first three segments of the race. But I kept wrestling with it and the guys kept working on it to get the balance right. The one adjustment that got us right - we were back to about eighth- or ninth-place - we really didn't know, at first, if it was the right adjustment. I thought, 'Oh man, this might be too tight. Did we go too much?' But when we got closer to the front it started driving better and better. And when we got into the lead there at the end, it was an awesome car. From that point on, we didn't make any more adjustments the rest of the night."
While no more mechanical adjustments were made, Stewart did have to adjust to some circumstances.
A multi-car accident on lap 154 brought out the caution. When safety crews finished cleaning the track, only three laps remained. And even though Stewart had proven strong all night, as a decisive inside move through the tri-oval on lap 153 that brought him from sixth to second proved, a three-lap shootout for the win at Daytona is always a dicey proposition.
Ahead of Stewart for the restart was a surprising Boris Said. A road racing specialist with only a handful of oval track starts, Said took the pole in Friday's qualifying session and proved that his quick lap was no fluke. He stayed in the lead pack much of the night and held the point with three laps to go.
"I didn't want to see that caution," said Stewart. "We were in a really good position where we were. I was really comfortable with the pace we were running. Nobody could really do anything with us at that point.
"But Boris doesn't have a lot of experience running up front in a restrictor plate race and knowing what to do and what to watch out for. I knew some things that I could do that he probably wasn't going to be watching for. But I was still concerned because there was no guarantee that we could get by him.
"I hated to spoil it for him, but we just had a car that was too good tonight to not go out and win this race."
The win was Stewart's second this season and the 50th Nextel Cup victory for Joe Gibbs Racing. The team, now in its 15th year, earned its first victory at Daytona in 1993, where in just its second year of existence, it won the Daytona 500 with Dale Jarrett in the No. 18 Chevrolet.
The win bumped Stewart up two spots in the championship point standings to fifth, 299 markers arrears series leader Jimmie Johnson.
Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates - Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley - sit 10th and 29th, respectively, in points. Hamlin picked up one spot with his 17th place finish while Yeley dropped two positions after a 37th place result.
Kyle Busch finished second in the Pepsi 400, while Kurt Busch, Said and Elliott Sadler secured the rest of the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-10.