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Daytona 300: Stewart wins in photo finish

by Pete McCole
Saturday, February 19, 2011

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Stewart nips Bowyer in photo finish
Tony Stewart barely edged Clint Bowyer to cap off a dominating performance in Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race, winning the season-opening event for fourth straight year.

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.”

Stewart celebrates
Getty Images for NASCAR
Despite Stewart’s success in the season-opening events for the lower-tier series, he’s still winless in the Daytona 500 as he prepares to make his 12th start in the event on Sunday.

“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. 

Results

FIN CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 4 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Oreo / Ritz PE 120 Running
2 33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet Rheem Heating, Cooling & Water PE 120 Running
3 1 Landon Cassill Chevrolet Phoenix Construction 41/0 120 Running
4 5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Hellmann's PE 120 Running
5 32 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet Dollar General 39/0 120 Running
6 30 Jason Leffler Chevrolet AccuDoc Solutions 38/0 120 Running
7 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Z-Line Designs PE 120 Running
8 6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford Blackwell Angus Beef 36/0 120 Running
9 99 Michael Waltrip Toyota Pastrana Waltrip Racing PE 120 Running
10 16 Trevor Bayne Ford Ford. Drive one. 35/1 120 Running
11 38 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Great Clips PE 120 Running
12 20 Joey Logano Toyota GameStop PE 120 Running
13 19 Mike Bliss Chevrolet TriStar Motorsports 31/0 120 Running
14 7 Danica Patrick Chevrolet GoDaddy.com 31/1 120 Running
15 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota DAB Constructors 29/0 120 Running
16 51 Jeremy Clements Chevrolet RaceDaySponsor.com 28/0 120 Running
17 52 Bobby Santos Chevrolet Target Your Market Promotions 27/0 120 Running
18 15 Todd Bodine Toyota Tire Kingdom / Valvoline PE 120 Running
19 88 Aric Almirola Chevrolet Grand Touring Vodka 25/0 120 Running
20 66 Steve Wallace Toyota 5-Hour Energy 24/0 118 Running
21 05 David Starr Chevrolet 31-W Insulation PE 118 Running
22 70 Shelby Howard Chevrolet Foretravel Motorcoach 22/0 118 Running
23 81 Donnie Neuenberger Dodge Eagle Convenience Stores 21/0 118 Running
24 141 Patrick Sheltra Ford Fuel Doctor USA / Lilly Trucking 20/0 118 Running
25 28 Derrike Cope Chevrolet ThePrevention Plan.com 19/0 118 Running
26 89 Morgan Shepherd Chevrolet Salvation Army 18/0 117 Running
27 31 Justin Allgaier Chevrolet Brandt 17/0 116 Running
28 09 Kenny Wallace Toyota University of Northwestern Ohio 16/0 115 Running
29 60 Carl Edwards Ford Fastenal PE 107 Running
30 22 Brad Keselowski Dodge Discount Tire PE 105 Running
31 39 Josh Wise Ford Cajun Industries 13/0 103 Running
32 23 Robert Richardson Jr. Dodge Wildlife Conservation Society 12/0 103 In Pit
33 14 Eric McClure Chevrolet Hefty BlackOut 11/0 95 Running
34 11 Brian Scott Toyota Shore Lodge 10/0 70 In Pit
35 40 Scott Wimmer Chevrolet Key Motorsports 9/0 57 Out of Race
36 12 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge Penske Racing 8/0 53 In Pit
37 01 Mike Wallace Chevrolet G&K Services 8/1 51 Running
38 2 Elliott Sadler Chevrolet OneMain Financial 6/0 45 Running
39 62 Michael Annett Toyota Pilot Flying J Coffee 5/0 26 In Pit
40 44 Jeff Green Chevrolet TriStar Motorsports 4/0 18 In Pit
41 24 Kevin Lepage Ford RaceDaySponsor.com 3/0 12 In Pit
42 27 J.R. Fitzpatrick Ford Schick Hydro / Energizer Canada 2/0 10 In Pit
43 25 Kelly Bires Ford RaceDaySponsor.com 1/0 5 In Pit

* Denotes Rookie

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