Sunday, July 8, 2012

Stewart Smokes the Field

Tony Stewart last won the Coke Zero 400 back in 2009, and he has always been strong at the restrictor-plate  track.  This weekend, Stewart was able to overcome strong Roush-Fenway Racing cars to win his fourth Daytona race.

Stewart takes the checkered flag ahead of Jeff Burton (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race didn't begin without a little controversy.  Before the race even began, the NASCAR community was stunned with the sudden suspension of AJ Allmendinger.  Allmendinger had a positive drug test, and violated NASCAR's substance abuse policy.  Sam Hornish Jr. was able to fly in and step into the No. 22 car for Allmendinger and Roger Penske.

When the race finally started, Matt Kenseth led the field to the green flag after winning the pole for the Coke Zero 400.  He and his Roush-Fenway teammate Greg Biffle, who started fourth, were quickly able to get hooked up at the front.  No one was able to pass the Roush-Fenway duo, and they led until lap 40, when drivers began coming in for green-flag pit stops.

The last cars came in on lap 43, and when the stops cycled around, Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne found themselves the top two cars.  On lap 49, Kenseth pushed Biffle around on the outside to take the lead.  While they were pushing, Kenseth's car began to push water, but they were able to get to the front and Kenseth was able to get air to the engine to cool the car down. 

On lap 80, Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Paul Menard came in to make their second round of green-flag pit stops.  On lap 81, the night's first caution came out for Sam Hornish Jr., who had a left-rear tire go down.  When the tire came apart, it ripped the side of his car off.  The field came in to make pit stops, and the stops were not without incident.  While Ryan Newman pulled out of his pit, he was clipped by Jeff Gordon, which sent Newman's car across Kasey Kahne's nose, and into Brad Keselowski's car.  No pit crew members or NASCAR officials were hurt.

Ryan Newman sits backwards after getting spun on pit road (Courtesy Getty Images)
The green flag came back out on lap 86, and Roush-Fenway teammates Kenseth, Biffle, and Carl Edwards led the field.  They led until lap 91, when the night's second caution came out for a wreck with Kurt Busch, Trevor Bayne, and Bobby Labonte.  The wreck started when Kurt Busch tried to wedge his car in between Bayne and Newman, and his car made contact with Bayne's.

The race restarted on lap 96, and Kenseth led Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Biffle, and Edwards.  After some slight contact down the backstretch, Kenseth and Biffle once again found themselves in the first two spots.  On lap 125, a wreck erupted in the middle of the pack.  The wreck destroyed the car of Jimmie Johnson, and also included Jeff Gordon, Regan Smith, Joey Logano, Michael Waltrip, and Bill Elliott.

Johnson's car makes hard contact with the inside wall (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race restarted on lap 131, and Kyle Busch led, and was followed by Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Marcos Ambrose.  Stewart was able to get the lead on the restart, and began to protect his position.  On lap 144, the caution came back out again, for a spin by Brad Keselowski.  When he turned left coming out of Turn 2, his car just went around on him.

Tony Stewart led the field back to the green flag on lap 148.  With 9 laps to go, Biffle and Kenseth powered up to Stewart and passed him for the lead.  Heading into Turn 1, the "Big One" struck.  Hamlin tried to power around the 16, but he didn't have enough room, and he spun in front of the field.  The wreck collected Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Bayne, David Gilliland, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ambrose, Dave Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears, Paul Menard, David Reutimann, and David Ragan.

The carnage of the "Big One" (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race restarted with two laps to go, and Kenseth led Stewart and Biffle to the green flag.  On the restart, Kasey Kahne gave Stewart a huge push to push them beside the Roush-Fenway duo of Kenseth and Biffle.  Stewart was able to get ahead of Biffle and Kenseth after some drivers made contact.  Coming through Turn 4, Biffle's car was clipped by Harvick and spun in front of the entire field, collecting most of the remaining cars.  The wreck allowed Stewart to pull away for his third win of the season.

Biffle and Harvick make contact, which started the massive pile-up at the end (Courtesy Getty Images)
Jeff Burton finished second, and Matt Kenseth was able to come home third.  Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, and Carl Edwards were able to avoid the wreck and finished fourth-sixth, respectively.  Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Michael Waltrip, and Bobby Labonte rounded out the Top 10.  Jeff Gordon finished 12th.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. was involved in the last-lap wreck and finished 15th.  Greg Biffle, who ran up front all night, finished 21st after starting the final wreck.  Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch finished 23rd and 24th, respectively.  Jimmie Johnson finished 36th; it was Johnson's third DNF out of the season's three restrictor-plate races. 

Next week, the Sprint Cup Series returns to racing on a Sunday afternoon, when the cars hit the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the LENOX Industrial Tools 301.  The race will be TNT's final race of the season, and can be seen at 12 noon.

Courtesy Getty Images

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