Tony Stewart felt confident heading into the 55th Daytona 500 Sunday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. It was his 15th career start in the Great American Race, and his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS was fast throughout Speedweeks.
But just 34 laps into the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Stewart was collected in a multi-car crash that left his once-sleek Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet a crumpled mess. His Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) team made extensive repairs and 82 laps later, Stewart returned to the 2.5-mile superspeedway to log laps and earn the best finish possible, which was 41st in the 43-car field.
“The hell with the season; I wanted to win the Daytona 500,” said Stewart when queried about how this finish affected his championship point standing. “We had a car that we could pass with today. We were passing cars by ourselves. I was happy with our car, just waiting for it to all get sorted out again. I don’t know what started it, but we just got caught up in another wreck.”
The accident started when Kasey Kahne lost control of his car and spun across the track. Kevin Harvick crashed when reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski tried to avoid the wreck. Harvick spun toward the outside retaining wall, collecting Stewart, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch.
It was a disappointing ending to what had been a strong Speedweeks for Stewart. He finished fourth in the non-points Sprint Unlimited Feb. 16, set the fifth-fastest speed in time trials for the Daytona 500 last Sunday, was among the top-11 in each practice session in which he participated and won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday for a record-tying seventh time, joining the legendary Dale Earnhardt.
“If I told you I wasn’t heartbroken, I’d be lying to you,” said Stewart in a live TV interview following his accident.
Enjoying much better outings in the Daytona 500 were Stewart’s SHR teammates, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick.
Newman led the way for SHR by finishing fifth after leading twice for three laps in his No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS, finished eighth after leading three times for five laps. Patrick earned the highest finish for a woman in the Great American Race. The previous best finish for a woman in the Daytona 500 was 11th by Janet Guthrie in 1980.
Patrick made history a week ago by becoming the first woman to win a Sprint Cup pole when she set the fastest time in qualifying for the Daytona 500. She wrote another chapter of Daytona 500 history by leading laps 90-91, becoming the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race. Patrick made similar history in the IZOD IndyCar Series when she led 19 laps as a rookie in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, becoming the first woman to lead open-wheel racing’s premier event. She finished fourth that year at Indy.
Patrick is one of only 13 drivers to have led the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, joining A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Bobby Allison, Jim Hurtubise, Johnny Rutherford, Tim Richmond, John Andretti, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Stewart.
Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500 to score his 61st career Sprint Cup victory and his second in the Daytona 500, with the other in 2006. He became the 10th driver to win multiple Daytona 500s.
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished .129 of a second behind in the runner-up spot. Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski and Newman took spots three through five. The rest of the top-10 consisted of Greg Biffle, Regan Smith, Patrick, Michael McDowell and JJ Yeley.
There were six caution periods for 24 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish.
With round one of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is fifth, seven points behind series leader Johnson. Patrick stands seventh, 10 points out of first. Stewart is 37th, 44 points behind Johnson.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished four spots ahead of Stenhouse (12th).
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Subway Fresh Fit 500k Sunday, March 3 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EST, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.