[media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]Tony Stewart hasn’t lost his Daytona magic and Saturday night he needed all of it to earn his fourth win in the last eight Coke Zero 400s.
Having qualified second then failing inspection because of an open cooling hose in his No. 14 Mobile 1 Chevrolet, Stewart came from 42nd on the grid. He passed Matt Kenseth coming to the white flag and then had clear sailing the checkered flag as a wreck broke out behind him.
An exciting finish to a race that started off atypical for Daytona. Kenseth, the Daytona 500 winner who was looking to become the first driver in 30 years to win both races, led the field to the green flag then dominated the first half of the event. He and teammate Greg Biffle stuck together and never left the yellow line.
As they lead, many tried to get the outside lane to work. It never did. Kenseth and Biffle were simply untouchable. The first caution of the event didn’t fly until after halfway when Sam Hornish, subbing for the suspended AJ Allmendinger, spun down the backstretch after cutting down a tire.
During the caution the action got scary on pit road. Jeff Gordon was exiting his pit stall when he and Ryan Newman made contact. Newman ended up across the nose of Kasey Kahne and spun into the pit stall of Brad Keselowski. Lucky the No. 2 crew members and officials were able to escape without injury.
When the race restarted it looked like Kenseth was easily cruising toward another win. That was until the next caution when he had to restart at the rear of the field after losing his track position. Kenseth had been on pit road when the caution came out but had to continue through without service or be penalized.
His misfortune opened the door for Stewart. Quickly asserting himself the leader but he would have to deal again with Kenseth on a late restart after The Big One with eight laps to go took out 14 cars, setting up a two-lap dash to the finish.
On the restart Stewart and Kahne paired together and flew past Kenseth and Biffle. It would end up being the wining pass. Stewart headed for the finish line as 15 more cars wrecked off turn four. Jeff Burton came through for a second place finish while Kenseth, who led a race high 89 of 160 laps, finished third.
“I don’t even remember what happened that last lap,” Stewart said in Victory Lane. “I was in that second lane and just tried to get that 17 and 16 pulled apart and once we had them pulled apart that gave us a run on the outside.
“Just shows what Mobile 1 lubricants and oils can do for you. So good on restarts and just a weird day. I’m still hoping for a figure eight race here.”
Stewart then acknowledged, “Anytime you win at Daytona it’s special but this Chevy was awesome. Had great Hendrick horsepower. Everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing did a great job this weekend. I’m really, really proud of our organization.”
The win was the third of 2012 for Stewart and the 47th of his career. It’s also the 18th time that he’s won at Daytona, second only to Dale Earnhardt. And with his three wins he moves into a tie with Brad Keselowski for most on the season.
Kenseth retained the point lead, increasing to 25 over Dale Earnhardt Jr. Greg Biffle moved back to third and Jimmie Johnson fell to fourth after suffering another DNF at Daytona.
The 2012 Coke Zero 400 saw 12 lead changes among nine drivers and six cautions for 23 laps. The series heads to New Hampshire next weekend for the 19th of 36 races.
|Unofficial Race Results|
|Coke Zero 400, Daytona International Speedway|
|15||–||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||29|
|17||–||56||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||28|
|33||–||22||Sam Hornish Jr.||Dodge||0|
|38||–||26||Josh Wise *||Ford||7|
|42||–||33||Stephen Leicht *||Chevrolet||2|