Tony Stewart part of massive race-ending crash at Daytona

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Tony Stewart was poised to notch his fifth straight win in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, but a last-lap crash while vying for the lead jettisoned those plans.

Nonetheless, Stewart was able to nurse his No. 33 Oreo 100th Birthday Chevrolet Impala across the finish line in eighth place while unheralded James Buescher scored a surprise win in the DRIVE4COPD 300.

“The hole that we had all of a sudden not only closed up, it shut – pretty quickly. It got slammed on us. We just ran out of real estate,” said Stewart, who had won six of the last seven season-opening Nationwide Series races at Daytona, including the past four.

Stewart started seventh in the 120-lap race around the 2.5-mile oval and quickly asserted his familiar position at the front of the field. He took the lead on lap five and went on to lead four more times for a total of 22 laps.

As the field took the white flag for the final lap, Stewart hooked up with his Richard Childress Racing (RCR) teammate Elliott Sadler and rode the high line around turns three and four in a bid for the win.

“Elliott (Sadler) did a great job,” Stewart said. “Once we got going we got a big, big, big run down the backstretch. We got on the outside – we had that lane and then all of a sudden someone turned right, right in front of us. I don’t know how they got there or why they got there, but it was a pretty abrupt right-hand turn in front of us. Just all of a sudden the door got slammed on us. I don’t know why whoever it was turned right, but it wasn’t a very good time to either try blocking or moving.”

Eleven cars were collected in the last-lap melee, with Stewart and his No. 33 Oreo 100th Birthday Chevrolet getting pinned against the outside wall. Smoke and debris filled the tri-oval, but Stewart kept his foot in the gas and willed his smoldering, smoking and sparking remnant of a racecar across the finish line in eighth.

“Richard Childress brought us an awesome Oreo Chevrolet today. Their whole crew just did a great job,” Stewart said. “It’s always so much fun to come here because I just sit in the car, I go run about a dozen laps and then they get it ready for qualifying. We ran around by ourselves most of the day when guys were in a two-car tandem and we could run with them. It showed how good a car we had.”

The loss didn’t deter Stewart’s spirits. The Nationwide Series race proved to be another solid outing in what has become an impressive Speedweeks for Stewart. He finished second in the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday night and won his Gatorade Duel qualifying race on Thursday. He starts third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ season opener – the 54th Daytona 500 on Sunday. He has a total of 17 Daytona victories, but none in the coveted Daytona 500.

“I think we still have a pretty good batting average here, and we were a factor in it again today,” said Stewart after being asked if he was disappointed that he didn’t win the Nationwide Series season opener for the seventh time in the last eight years. “A lot can happen here at Daytona. The big prize is Sunday.”

His RCR teammates – Sadler, driver of the No. 2 Chevrolet Impala, and Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet Impala – finished third and fifth, respectively.

Buescher’s win was his first career Nationwide Series victory. Brad Keselowski finished second, while Sadler, Cole Whitt and Dillon rounded out the top-five. Tayler Malsam, Timmy Hill, Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were eight caution periods for 35 laps, with 18 drivers failing to finish the 120-lap race.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

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Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart: Daytona 500 speedweek interview

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Indiana native Tony Stewart went winless during the first 26 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ regular season in 2011. Then he went and took five of the year’s final 10 races. In doing so, the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing captured his third Sprint Cup championship; knocking off Jimmie Johnson.

Then he won a couple more courses in the Hoosier state: the inaugural Karting Classic at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Dec. 11, where he was one of six NASCAR drivers in a race with six IZOD IndyCar Series drivers. A few days later on Dec. 31, Stewart won again, this time at the Rumble in Fort Wayne (Ind.) USAC Midget feature on the 1/10-mile track inside the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

Now, Stewart kicks off his 2012 NASCAR season as the reigning Sprint Cup champion. That the 36-race marathon that is the Sprint Cup schedule begins at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway means Stewart could very well extend his winning streak, for the Columbus, Ind., native owns 16 total victories at Daytona.

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