DAYTONA-SIZED DOSE OF DISAPPOINTMENT FOR STEWART Home Depot Driver Goes from First to Third in Final Mile of Daytona 500 It was right there... roughly a mile away -- the checkered flag for the 50th running of the Daytona 500. And Tony...
DAYTONA-SIZED DOSE OF DISAPPOINTMENT FOR STEWART
Home Depot Driver Goes from First to Third in Final Mile of Daytona 500
It was right there... roughly a mile away -- the checkered flag for the 50th running of the Daytona 500. And Tony Stewart was poised to take it.
The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) took the lead in the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with only two laps remaining, and held the top spot as he came off turn two and down the 3,000-ft. backstretch of the 2.5-mile oval. But a run on the outside of Stewart by the Penske Racing teammates of Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch heading into turn three proved too strong.
Even with his JGR teammate Kyle Busch pushing him toward the finish line, Stewart could not hold off the run and subsequent 1-2 punch the Penske teammates got from running the high line. Their momentum carried them through turns three and four better than the low line run by Stewart and Kyle, and it was just enough to thwart the efforts of the JGR duo.
Newman crossed the stripe .092 of a second ahead of his teammate, while Stewart and Kyle stuck together to take third and fourth, respectively.
"It's pretty tough to say that I'm happy to go from first to third on the last lap of the Daytona 500," said Stewart, whose best Daytona 500 finish remains second in 2004. "I just made the wrong decision on the backstretch and tried to get down in front of Kyle. I thought we could get a push down there, but the No. 2 (Kurt Busch) got glued to the No. 12 (Ryan Newman).
"I don't know if I could've stopped them anyway, and if I would've changed lanes, I think I would've ended up like a bunch of other guys -- wrecked. In all reality and in hindsight, I'm probably going to be a lot happier about it tomorrow. It's hard to explain. It's probably one of the most disappointing moments of my racing career."
Stewart's impending disappointment began when the caution flag waved on lap 195 for debris. On the ensuing restart, Stewart was slotted third with Jeff Burton first and Kyle in second. Kyle and Stewart split Burton's No. 31 car, with Kyle going low and Stewart going high. Running the high line propelled Stewart into the lead ahead of Newman, Kyle and Kurt heading into the final lap.
But the Penske lineup of Newman and Kurt connected, and with a full head of steam, they powered their way to the outside entering turn three, and unfortunately, it wasn't the cool down lap of the Daytona 499.
"Those guys had such a head of steam," said Kyle of the Penske tandem. "They got ahead of me on that restart. They lagged back and then got a big push. In the NASCAR rulebook, that's not right, but they let it go. Just frustrating to come home fourth, but that's a part of the Daytona 500.'
Despite the disappointing outcome, the Daytona 500 was an incredibly strong outing for JGR and its new manufacturer partner, Toyota. Kyle literally led the way by pacing the 43-car field eight times for a race-high 86 laps. Fellow JGR driver Denny Hamlin led five times for 32 laps, the second-highest tally of the day. And Stewart led four times for 16 laps, the third highest total of the race. In all, JGR drivers led 134 of the 200 laps available (67 percent).
Stewart's third-place result, Kyle's fourth-place finish and Hamlin's 17th-place effort -- which came as a result of three separate incidents that roughed up the contours of his car's sheet metal -- put the drivers third, fourth and 16th, respectively, in the championship standings.