Daytona 300: Stewart wins in photo finish
Stewart rallied from a late-race pit stop for a flat tire and hooked up with Landon Cassill to come back up through the field and catch the lead duo of Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. coming through the final turn before ducking to the outside and beating Bowyer to the line by mere inches.
Bowyer was credited with second, followed by Cassill, Earnhardt, Jr. and Reed Sorenson with Chevrolet sweeping the top five.
“We got to the front pretty early. Once we got with Clint (Bowyer), we knew if we could stay together all day, we were going to be a pretty potent combination,” said Stewart. “We had the caution there where we would have started on the front together. We had the flat tire under the caution.
“I didn't realize that we had as many cars a lap down as what we had. But that's what saved us in that. We were able to come in, put four tires on, restart 11th. The tire didn't come apart when it went flat. We were able to get around to the pits without it coming apart and tearing the body off. That was a huge, huge key in this race really, was that flat tire.”
“The good thing is I'm probably the happiest guy going into tomorrow,” said Stewart. “We're coming off a win today. It shows we can do it. It's just a matter of whether the cards play out tomorrow.”
Much like the Sprint Cup races from earlier in the week, most of the front-runners broke away from the field in two-car packs and trading the lead back and forth, leading to a race-tying record 35 lead changes among eight drivers.
Piloting a Chevrolet out of the Kevin Harvick, Inc. stable, Stewart picked up his “prom date”, pole-sitter and KHI teammate Clint Bowyer, early in the race as the two made their way to the front of the field, where they combined to lead 53 laps.
Stewart finally had to leave his dance partner following the third multi-car crash of the day with 14 laps to go, when Cassill unexpectedly dropped down on his drafting partner, Brad Keselowski, touching off five-car pileup that brought out the red flag.
Stewart, running second, suffered a cut right-rear tire and was force to pit, rejoining the field in 11th-place.
Now hooked up with Earnhardt, Jr., Bowyer again pulled away at the start as Kyle Busch and Joey Logano paired up and gave chase.
Stewart, now finding himself without a drafting partner, got in behind Cassill and began pushing them through the field.
On the white-flag lap, Logano got into the outside wall and spun out, sending Busch plummeting out of the top five as Stewart and Cassill continued to close in on Bowyer and Earnhardt.
Coming out of turn four, Bowyer moved to block as Earnhardt looked to make a move, creating an opening for Stewart as he parted to the outside and out in front of Cassill, juts barely getting his nose in front of Bowyer as they came to the start/finish line
“We went for that ultimate speed scenario to try to get through there,” said Stewart. “Landon did a good job of making some good moves to get through traffic. When two of the cars in front of us swapped, I made the decision for us, we didn't have time to get with the spotter and make that decision, it was just kind of a calling an audible, I guess, but pulled a swap with him. That got us back a little bit, but we were with the two groups we needed to be around.
“Landon pushed and pushed and pushed and did a really good job. We got that momentum built. We never had to check up ,we never were in a scenario at the end where we had to break that momentum. The other guys were up front and we had the benefit of having the pocket of air we were in to get the momentum. Just ran 'em down. Got there in just enough time.”
For Bowyer, it was a bitter pill to swallow after leading so many laps drafting with Stewart only to see it get snatched away in the final moments.
“(Earnhardt, Jr.) was getting antsy, fixing to do something. When I pulled up, I looked in the mirror one more time, they were still door-to-door,” said Bowyer of the last lap scramble. “I thought (Stewart) would be a lot farther ahead than he was. Junior dived down low under me. I went to block him thinking he had the run. Just went the wrong way.
“Coming off of four, what do you do? They had a good run. I tried to block the 4's momentum. About that time Junior ducked under me, I had to block him. All hell broke loose. Awesome ending. That's what's so much fun about this place. No matter what the race is, the ending's always great.”
Cassill, by virtue of being the top NASCAR Nationwide finisher to receive driver points, now finds himself as the points leader, and without a ride for next week’s race at Phoenix.
“I don't have a ride next week, so I'm going to bask in this for the next several days,” said Cassill. “It was just a crazy day. We didn't draft at all in practice. I was worried about that 'cause I'd never done this -- actually, I've never done any drafting before in the Nationwide Series. It was kind of a learn on the fly deal.”
Jason Leffler, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Michael Waltrip and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top ten. Danica Patrick finished 14th, one lap down.
* Denotes Rookie
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