Event: Daytona 500
STEWART DENIED IN DAYTONA 500 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Driver in Contention for Win until Last-Lap Jockeying Drops Him from Draft
It was a familiar Daytona 500 weekend for Tony Stewart. The driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart Haas Racing (SHR) came into the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway fresh off his win in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race -- his fourth straight such victory and his sixth in the last seven years. And just as he's done in past years, Stewart took that momentum and applied it toward a Daytona 500 victory -- something that had eluded Stewart in 12 previous starts in the Great American Race.
His 13th Daytona 500 start gave Stewart hope that perhaps this was the year, as he was a contender throughout the 208-lap contest, which was extended eight laps past its originally distance via a green-white-checkered finish. But just as past Daytona 500s have left Stewart more jaded than jovial, Sunday's 53rd Daytona 500 felt like more of the same, for Stewart went from being second with two laps remaining to finishing 13th.
As strong as Stewart's Office Depot/Mobil1 Chevy was, he needed help. Racing in the draft is a necessity at Daytona, and this year, two-car tandems were the fast way around the spacious, 2.5-mile oval. Stewart had many dancing partners during the day, and while he never led a lap, he was a top-10 mainstay.
In the final, two-lap dash to the finish, Stewart was in second-place on the outside of leader Trevor Bayne. It was the race's final restart, and Stewart appeared in prime position to finally win his first Daytona 500 and the 40th point-paying race of his Sprint Cup career. Behind Stewart was Mark Martin, and it made sense to believe that the two Chevrolets could draft their way past Bayne and onto Daytona 500 fame.
That notion soon fizzled, however, when the inside line led by Bayne got going quicker than the one led by Stewart. Knowing time was running out, Stewart darted left in an attempt to catch the faster train of cars. More jockeying took place, and before the field came back around to take the final lap, Stewart had been jettisoned outside the top-five, and when the checkered flag dropped, he was outside the top-10 -- an area he hadn't been all day.
Stewart climbed from his car in the garage area shaking his head at the incredulous nature of his race. No words were needed. Adding insult to injury was the final result of his SHR teammate, Ryan Newman.
With his No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, Newman had paced the Daytona 500 nine times for a race-high 37 laps -- his best Daytona 500 showing since winning the event in 2008. Yet, two late-race accidents conspired to leave Newman 22nd.
Enjoying a much better day was Bayne. The 20-year-old driver pulled off a major upset by winning NASCAR's most prestigious race. With little Sprint Cup experience and driving for a team that's only running a part-time schedule, Bayne held off some of NASCAR's best to win his first career Sprint Cup race. In only his second Sprint Cup start, Bayne became the youngest Daytona 500 winner, and he did it driving for one of the most storied organizations in NASCAR.
Wood Brothers Racing was the franchise that gave Richard Petty a run for his money in the 1970s and early '80s. But after 97 victories -- the last of which came on March, 25 2001 when Elliott Sadler drove their car to victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway -- the team had gone winless. And in 2008, the proud, family-owned team was forced to run a part-time schedule. Bayne's Daytona 500 win injected a shot of adrenaline to the team and the sport of NASCAR, for it was an honest win by an honest kid for a team that helped shape the NASCAR we know today. This was the Wood Brothers' fifth Daytona 500 victory, but first since 1976 when David Pearson was their driver.
Bayne crossed the finish line .118 of a second over second-place Carl Edwards. Finishing third was David Gilliland, while Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five. Juan Pablo Montoya, Regan Smith, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
The 53rd Daytona 500 was a record-breaking race on three fronts: lead changes (74), leaders (22) and cautions (16), with 60 laps run under the yellow flag. Thirteen drivers failed to finish.
Points following the Daytona 500 also had an unusual angle, for despite winning the Daytona 500, Bayne earned no points for his triumph. Bayne declared the stepping-stone Nationwide Series as the division in which he will compete for a driver's championship in 2011, so he was awarded no points for his Daytona 500 effort. Drivers in all three of NASCAR's national series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck -- must select the series in which they'll compete for a driver's championship. Drivers may race in all three series, but they will only earn championship points in their "declared" series. It is a new rule for 2011, which coincides with a revamped point structure.
Basically, points have been simplified, and they apply to all NASCAR national series. Now, points are awarded in one-point increments. In Sprint Cup, that means the race winner gets 43 points, plus three bonus point for the victory. The winner can also earn an extra point for leading a lap and another point for leading the most laps, bringing their total to a possible maximum of 48 points. All other drivers in subsequent finishing order will be separated by one-point increments. A second-place finisher will earn 42 points, a third-place finisher will earn 41 points, and so on. Last-place (43rd) gets one point.
Stewart is tied for 12th in the Sprint Cup championship standings with David Ragan. Stewart has 31 points and is 11 markers behind series leader Edwards. Newman is tied with Denny Hamlin for 19th. Each has 24 points, 18 arrears Edwards.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Feb. 27 Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway.