Tony Stewart manhandled his No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala to a strong second-place finish in his Gatorade Duel qualifying race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. He finished .014 of a second behind race winner Kasey Kahne,...
Tony Stewart manhandled his No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala to a strong second-place finish in his Gatorade Duel qualifying race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. He finished .014 of a second behind race winner Kasey Kahne, and in doing so, earned himself a solid, sixth-place starting spot in Sunday's Daytona 500.
"We've got a little bit of work to do, but I'm proud of our guys," Stewart said. "The first half of the race we weren't very good, but we made a lot of ground on it the second half of the race."
Stewart ran outside the top-10 for much of the 60-lap race as he battled his car's handling. Crew chief Darian Grubb called for a major chassis adjustment during a scheduled pit stop while under caution on lap 28. After that, the car responded, and with 15 laps to go, Stewart worked his way to third behind the cars of Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers.
With 10 laps to go, Stewart drafted with Vickers past Busch. And when Vickers' Toyota got loose coming off turn four of the 2.5-mile oval, Stewart dove low to take the lead. The Office Depot/Old Spice pilot paced laps 55-58 before Kahne got a run by him, and despite a massive push from Juan Pablo Montoya, Stewart couldn't quite catch Kahne as they crossed the finish line fender to fender.
"Our only shot is to stay in clean air, and we got lucky enough to be in the right line and that got us to the top three, then got Brian (Vickers) up in the lead and got us to second, and he (Vickers) was just really loose on the outside," said Stewart, who won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona last July. "We were too tight for the bottom, really good on top. He was really good on the bottom and really loose on top. That gave us the opportunity to make him work a little bit there, and man, he had two great saves. The first one was good and people probably didn't see it when he was trying to pass the '2' car (Busch), but the second save was pretty impressive. We just didn't have enough.
"We've struggled with getting the car to handle since we've been here, for some reason. I don't know what's so different this time around, but we go from winning the race back in July to where we can't even make our car turn. So, we're still working on it.
"But the great thing about this place is that it's about handling. It's been so frustrating running at Daytona for so many years and having to worry about who was helping you (in the draft). You still need to have help, but if you don't have a good-handling car, I don't care who's pushing you, it's not going to matter."
Stewart has proven that his No. 14 machine is fast. If he can just get it to handle to his liking, he'll be a force in the 52nd Daytona 500. Two more days of practice will allow him and the Office Depot/Old Spice team to fine-tune it for 500 miles of racing on Sunday.
"We've still got a little bit of work to do, but that's what we have two more days of practice for."
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala and Stewart's teammate at SHR, was in the first Gatorade Duel. Newman started second by virtue of his third-fastest qualifying time in last Saturday's time trials. The 2008 Daytona 500 winner finished eighth, which means he will start 17th in the Daytona 500.
Four-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson won the first Gatorade Duel by .005 of a second over Kevin Harvick. Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Regan Smith took spots three through five. The rest of the top-10 consisted of Jamie McMurray, A.J. Allmendinger, Newman, David Ragan and Jeff Gordon.
Finishing third in the second Gatorade Duel to Kahne and Stewart was Montoya, while Kurt Busch and Elliott Sadler rounded-out the top-five. The rest of the top-10 consisted of Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose, David Reutimann and Vickers.
With the Gatorade Duel races now complete, the field for the Daytona 500 is set. On the pole is Mark Martin and alongside him is his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. By notching the two quickest times during time trials, 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 Casey Mears, Todd Bodine, David Gilliland, Terry Cook, Derrike Cope, Aric Almirola, Dave Blaney, Reed Sorenson, Mike Wallace, Norm Benning and Jeff Fuller.