Tony Stewart was victorious, once again, in NASCAR Nationwide Series action at Daytona International Speedway, collecting his fifth win in six years in the season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300. But Stewart didn’t feel all that much like celebrating in victory lane. Instead, his thoughts were with drivers involved in a last-lap multi-car crash ans fans in the grandstands.
“The important thing is what’s going on on the front stretch,” Stewart said. “As much as we want to celebrate right now, our thoughts are with the drivers and the fans in the grandstand. I saw it in the mirror, and it didn’t look good.”
As Stewart was en route to the checkered flag, with Sam Hornish Jr. pushing him from behind, Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski made contact, as Smith tried to keep Keselowski behind him.
“He felt like that’s (blocking) what he had to do, and that’s his right,” Keselowski said.
The contact resulted in a wreck that collected several cars, including the No. 32 of Kyle Larson that got airborne, hitting the catchfence and shearing off the front end of the car. Much of the front of the No. 32 wound up on the fan side of the catchfence. At the time of this story posting, there had been no report on the extent of fan injuries. All drivers involved walked away.
Other drivers involved included Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Brian Scott, among others
“It was a pinball effect,” Scott said.
The four-car team of Joe Gibbs Racing, with drivers Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Sadler and Brian Vickers dominated the race early with all four of their cars running up front. But one by one, with the exception of Kenseth, they were each plagued with engine overheating issues.
Sadler, though, was able to overcome the issue to make his way back toward the front, even leading for a team, near the end of the race. Vickers, meanwhile, went two laps down, and Busch’s race was ended with 21 laps to go when overheating destroyed his engine.
“Last year, we ran our cars at 260 (degrees) or 270 all day and today I was about 250 to 260 so I thought being less I was going to be okay and not hurt anything,” Busch said. “Never really thought I pushed too much water out, but there at the end just started to heat up, the oil temperature got hot and the thing never wanted to cool back down.”
Stewart restarted the race outside the top-20 following the yellow brought out by Busch’s engine problem, but he quickly made his way back toward the front to restart second with two laps to go following a caution that came out with five to go.
On that restart, Smith restarted in the lead, with Keselowski behind him in third. But when the race went back to green, Hornish, who restarted fourth, pushed Stewart out to the front. Hornish wound up with a second-place finish.
“The only thing I saw was coming to the white the 33 (Stewart) and I got separated and got back together,” Hornish said. “I pushed him up there as far as I could. It took some dicey moves and I guess the 22 (Keselowski) and 7 (Smith) got tangled up there. I tried to get off the back of the 33 so I didn’t push him into anything and as soon as I got clean air I was right in the back of the 22, so it’s unfortunate that we did get a little bit torn up, but I guess it was a second-place finish. I’ll take that.”
Alex Bowman finished third, Earnhardt was fourth, and Parker Kligerman rounded out the top-five.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR