Daytona Twins: Tony Stewart race report

Stewart Scores First Win of 2005 in Gatorade Duel Win Slots Stewart Fourth for Sunday's Daytona 500 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 17, 2005) - Tony Stewart averted a multi-car crash and a charging Jeff Burton to win the second of two Gatorade ...

Stewart Scores First Win of 2005 in Gatorade Duel
Win Slots Stewart Fourth for Sunday's Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Feb. 17, 2005) - Tony Stewart averted a multi-car crash and a charging Jeff Burton to win the second of two Gatorade Duel NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Daytona 500 qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet slipped through the smoke of a seven-car accident on the 37th lap of the 60-lap affair to emerge third, which he parlayed into a first-place finish when the checkered flag waved.

"The key to winning the race was my teammate Bobby Labonte," said Stewart, who took the lead from Burton on lap 48 as the nose of Labonte's #18 Chevrolet shoved Stewart to the front. "We got such a good push from him into turn one that it got us by Jeff. I didn't intend on going by that early, but we just had too good of a run. We never would've won the race if it weren't for Bobby Labonte."

Avoiding the race's big wreck was also a key component to Stewart's win. The two-time Budweiser Shootout winner at Daytona (2001 and 2002) was tucked in behind the leaders when the race went from serene to scary.

Contact between Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson sent cars spinning and a plume of smoke rising as the two touched bumpers off turn two. Johnson spun deep onto the apron and seemed to suffer little damage while Harvick got pin-balled by a line of traffic behind him. Joe Nemechek, Dave Blaney, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin incurred heavy damage, with Harvick, Nemechek, Wallace and Blaney forced to unload their backup cars for Sunday's Daytona 500.

"I didn't see what happened," said Stewart. "I was about four cars back and I was watching what was behind me as well as what was in front of me. I didn't see what caused it, but when we got to it, it was a matter of trying to find a hole. That was the biggest thing. I didn't know where to go. I just saw an opening before the smoke got so thick you couldn't see anything. I aimed for that and it was good enough to get us through."

The escape proved good enough for a win too, as Stewart first's Gatorade Duel victory and third at Daytona placed him in prime position for the Daytona 500.

"To be honest, Sunday is another day," said Stewart, who will start fourth in the 47th running of the Daytona 500. "There's a lot of practice that's going to happen between now and Sunday. I would love to say that what happened today is what's going to happen on Sunday, but I can't do that. We only raced with half the field. The guys who crashed today are going to have backup cars on Sunday. It's a whole different race on Sunday. It's 500 miles versus the 150 miles today. We've got to keep working hard in every session and keep trying to make The Home Depot Chevrolet better and better."

Echoing those thoughts were those who finished behind Stewart, including second-place Burton who said, "I'm right where I want to be," as he too will enjoy a solid starting spot (sixth) for the Daytona 500. A surprising Kevin Lepage finished third to start eighth in the 500, rookie Martin Truex finished fourth to start 10th, and rounding out the top-five was Riggs, who will start 12th. Comprising the rest of the top-10 was Matt Kenseth, Robby Gordon, Scott Wimmer, Sterling Marlin and Boris Said.

The winner of the first Gatorade Duel race was two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip. He will start Sunday's race from behind pole-sitter Dale Jarrett in the third spot. Trailing Waltrip in second was his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will start fifth. Mike Skinner finished third to start seventh, Ryan Newman finished fourth to start ninth, and Ricky Rudd finished fifth to start 11th.

With the Gatorade Duel races having been decided, the field for the Daytona 500 is set. On the pole is Jarrett, and alongside him is Johnson. By notching the two quickest times during time trials last Sunday, both drivers were able to lock themselves into position for the Daytona 500. All the remaining drivers, however, had to race their way to a starting spot in the Gatorade Duel.

Those who didn't make the cut and will be forced to watch the Daytona 500 from the sidelines are Robby Gordon, Kerry Earnhardt, Derrike Cope, Eric McClure, Stanton Barrett, Larry Gunselman, Johnny Sauter, Hermie Sadler, Andy Belmont, Randy LaJoie, Kirk Shelmerdine, Morgan Shepherd, Greg Sacks and Geoffrey Bodine.

The green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Sun., Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Derrike Cope , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Mike Skinner , Geoffrey Bodine , Boris Said , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Kevin Lepage , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Andy Belmont , Larry Gunselman , Kerry Earnhardt , Hermie Sadler , Kirk Shelmerdine , Johnny Sauter , Scott Wimmer , Martin Truex Jr. , Stanton Barrett , Morgan Shepherd , Greg Sacks , Mark Martin