Daytona II: Tony Stewart race report

Déjà vu at Daytona. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (July 7, 2002) - Every race car driver wants to end his race in victory lane - but not on lap two. Nonetheless, that's exactly where Tony Stewart found himself after getting caught in a bumper car...

Déjà vu at Daytona.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (July 7, 2002) - Every race car driver wants to end his race in victory lane - but not on lap two.

Nonetheless, that's exactly where Tony Stewart found himself after getting caught in a bumper car match between Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler on just the second lap of Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. With victory lane being the closest open area near The Home Depot Racing Team's pit area, that's where crew members swarmed over the #20 machine to make the necessary repairs as quickly as possible.

As torches cut and hammers slammed, it seemed unbelievable, for just five months earlier at the very same race track for the season-opening Daytona 500, Stewart was able to complete just two laps in his Home Depot Pontiac before the engine expired.

But unlike the Daytona 500, Stewart was eventually able to get back onto the 2.5-mile race track Saturday night, albeit 32 laps down to the leader. With a reconfigured nose and right side thanks to mass quantities of duct tape, pop rivets and sweat, Stewart's Home Depot Pontiac returned to the race track to dutifully log laps in the hopes that other drivers would actually have worse finishes than Stewart.

Not that ill will was wished upon anyone, but the numerous variables outside of a team and driver's control in any one race is too great to count, and that was all The Home Depot team had to fall back on as their battered and beaten Pontiac rolled around the high banks of Daytona.

Crashes by Johnny Benson and Kenny Wallace, along with mechanical ills suffered by Mike Wallace and Shawna Robinson, all early in the race, enabled Stewart to come away with a 39th place finish instead of a 43rd place finish, a difference of 12 points.

It also allowed for Stewart to steer clear of the obligatory Big Wreck - the chain reaction, sheet metal crunching monstrosity that accompanies any restrictor plate race.

The Pepsi 400's Big One came on lap 135. It collected 14 cars, sending many a driver to the infield care center. Seemingly taking the worst hit in the melee was Joe Nemechek, who's Chevrolet careened head-first into the turn one wall after being tapped by another spinning car. Nemechek was okay, as were all the other drivers, but it was an eerie reminder to what happened at Daytona just a year and a half earlier when icon Dale Earnhardt perished in a similar incident in the Daytona 500.

Twenty-one cars were left on the lead lap following the destruction, including point leader Sterling Marlin and his nearest pursuer Mark Martin. Also out front and unscathed were Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Rusty Wallace, Jimmy Spencer, Todd Bodine and Jimmie Johnson.

Waltrip was consistently fast all night, and the winner of the 2001 Daytona 500 secured his second career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory in the Pepsi 400 after the race ended under caution for a two-car crash on the backstretch. Rusty Wallace followed in second, while Marlin, Spencer and Martin rounded out the top-five. Last year's winner, Eanhardt Jr., finished sixth.

The finish jumbled the point standings again, with the exception of first and second-place, held by Marlin and Martin, respectively. Jeff Gordon fell two spots to fifth after a 22nd place finish, while Johnson's eighth-place effort moved him up one spot to third. Rusty Wallace picked up two positions and moved to fourth, and by finishing 15th, Ricky Rudd moved up one position to sixth.

As for Stewart, he fell to seventh in points, two spots down from his fifth-place standing where he entered the Pepsi 400. After being just 88 points behind Marlin after a strong second-place finish two weeks ago at the Sonoma (Calif.) road course, Stewart left Daytona 212 points arrears.

The next event on the Winston Cup schedule is the July 14 Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Live coverage by NBC begins at 1:30 p.m. EDT.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Todd Bodine , Jimmy Spencer , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Shawna Robinson , Sterling Marlin , Mike Wallace , Johnny Benson , Jimmie Johnson , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin