ALTERNATIVE ENDING AT DAYTONA Stewart's Bid for Three-Straight Pepsi 400 Wins Ends with Early Race Crash Tony Stewart came into Saturday night's Pepsi 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway with a chance ...
ALTERNATIVE ENDING AT DAYTONA
Stewart's Bid for Three-Straight Pepsi 400 Wins Ends with Early Race Crash
Tony Stewart came into Saturday night's Pepsi 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway with a chance to join legendary stock car racer David Pearson as the only drivers to win three straight 400-mile races at Daytona. But after a tangle on lap 14 with his Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammate Denny Hamlin, Stewart's shot at a Pepsi 400 three-peat went up in tire smoke.
The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet was running behind Hamlin as the two paced the 43-car field early in the 160-lap race. Both JGR cars were strong, and both had a shot at the win. But after running 1-2 since lap nine, a slight wiggle from Hamlin's No. 11 machine while coming off turn two on lap 14 allowed Stewart to close the gap on Hamlin significantly. Too much, in fact, as the nose of Stewart's Chevrolet touched Hamlin's rear bumper, teeing off a five-car accident that severely damaged all involved.
For Stewart and Hamlin, it meant a prolonged trip to the garage for repairs. Both drivers returned to the race, albeit many laps down. Stewart finished 38th, while Hamlin finished 43rd.
"I'm sure he (Hamlin) was getting tight because for three laps in a row we were catching him through the center and the exit of the corner," said Stewart, who won the Pepsi 400 in 2005 and 2006, joining just Pearson, Cale Yarborough and A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win back-to-back Pepsi 400s.
"My car had a little bit of a wiggle there, but I think Tony was a little bit closer to me than what he expected," Hamlin added. "That's racing. It's what happens at this race track."
Neither driver was pleased with the outcome, but team owner Joe Gibbs -- well-versed in the dynamic of team relationships thanks to his 16 years and counting tenure as head coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins -- summed up the situation.
"We've got two guys who are very competitive, running up front, and we've got real good cars, and this is something that can happen," Gibbs said. "It was one of those unfortunate things. Both guys were going as hard as they can and I think both of these guys are real competitive. They're good teammates, but both guys are frustrated. It's a shame because we had two good cars, but it's a competitive sport. And when you've got good stuff and you're up front like that, it can happen. I hate it, but it did."
The disappointing result dropped Stewart one spot in the championship point standings. The two-time Nextel Cup champion is now seventh in points, 539 behind series leader Jeff Gordon. Hamlin, meanwhile, remains the lead JGR driver in points. He maintained his second-place standing, but dropped to 277 points arrears Gordon.
Their fellow JGR teammate, J.J. Yeley, finished a team-best 20th in the Pepsi 400, dropping him one position to 17th in points.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the July 15 USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. The race starts at 4 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.