HOME DEPOT DRIVER WINS DAYTONA SPEEDWEEKS OPENER Stewart Secures Third Shootout Win Tony Stewart led twice for 11 laps to win Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Daytona ...
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Stewart Secures Third Shootout Win
Tony Stewart led twice for 11 laps to win Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) secured his third career win in the 70-lap, non-points paying race, as he earned back-to-back Budweiser Shootout victories in 2001 and 2002.
"I'm just really happy," said Stewart. "Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) and all the guys made this Chevy awesome. It's the same car we ran last year in the Shootout and it's always been fast."
One person who knew exactly how fast Stewart's Home Depot Chevrolet could go was Kyle Busch.
Stewart was running second to Busch until lap 62, when the nose of Stewart's Chevy was an eyelash away from Busch's rear bumper as the pair raced around turns one and two of the 2.5-mile oval.
"I don't think we touched him," said Stewart. "It looked really close, obviously, but I don't believe we touched him. I think that with the way this tire is, if we'd have touched him and sent him up the race track like that, I think he would have crashed for sure.
"The first time he got loose and missed the bottom. I thought he did a pretty good job of just being able to counter that move and being able to come back down. But when he came back down, it got him really loose, and that was probably one of the best saves I have seen here in a long, long time.
"There are two kinds of grip," continued Stewart, "mechanical grip and aero grip. My getting so close to his rear bumper helped get him loose. With a harder right side tire, you are automatically taking away mechanical grip, so that makes the aero side of it even more dependant. As soon as you get behind somebody that close and take the aerodynamics off their back spoiler, we're having to rely more on the spoilers, and as soon as you start taking that downforce away, there is no tire there to lean on to catch it. We were able to move each other around on the race track tonight."
Once Stewart passed Busch for the point, he ran to the finish unchallenged.
The win was the 99th professional victory for JGR, with the 16-year-old racing organization now just one win away from milestone victory No. 100.
JGR's win tally features 54 point-paying Nextel Cup wins, six non-point paying Nextel Cups wins, five NASCAR Busch Series wins, 22 NHRA Top Fuel wins and 12 NHRA Funny Car wins.
Stewart, who joined the Nextel Cup Series with JGR in 1999, accounts for 34 of those victories, five of which were non-points races (1999 Winston Open at Charlotte; 2001, 2002 and 2007 Budweiser Shootouts at Daytona; and the 2005 Gatorade Duel, also at Daytona).
Stewart's JGR teammate and defending Budweiser Shootout winner -- Denny Hamlin -- finished 17th after running in the top-10 for most of the evening. Hamlin was collected in a last-lap accident as the field raced off turn four en route to the checkered flag.
The Budweiser Shootout is an exhibition race featuring pole winners from the previous Nextel Cup season and past Budweiser Shootout winners. This year's field included 21 drivers.
Next up for Stewart is Daytona 500 qualifying, where the two-time Nextel Cup champion will be among 61 drivers going for the pole for the 49th annual Daytona 500. Qualifying is set to get underway at 2:10 p.m. EST on Sunday with live coverage provided by Speed.
The Gatorade Duel -- twin 150-lap races which will set the field for the Daytona 500 -- takes place at 2 p.m. on Thurs., Feb. 15 with live coverage by Speed. Speedweeks then culminates with the Daytona 500 at 3:15 p.m. on Sun., Feb. 18, which can be seen live on FOX.