DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Tony Stewart has mastered how to win at Daytona International Speedway on Saturdays.
Now, if he could only figure out how to win on Sundays.
Stewart continued his domination of the Nationwide Series season opener, overcoming a late pit stop to fix a flat tire to catch Clint Bowyer at the finish line. It was his fourth consecutive win in the opener for NASCAR’s second-tier series and sixth in the past seven seasons.
He’s been unable to carry that success into the main event, the Daytona 500, a race he’s yet to win in 12 starts.
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“The first thing I thought about is, ‘Man, here we go with another Saturday that we win, and we’ll have bad luck (Sunday),’” Stewart said.
Stewart had bad luck on Saturday – a flat tire that forced him to give up second place for a late pit stop under caution. It dropped him to 11th on the restart, with six laps to go, and he hooked up with Landon Cassill to charge his way through the field.
Bowyer, the pole-sitter, led the field with Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushing him around the track. Bowyer and Earnhardt took off in a two-car pack, with Stewart and Cassill hooked up, and Kyle Busch and Joey Logano paired. The three two-car packs put on a thrilling show up to the final lap, when the Busch-Logano tandem ended with Busch hitting the outside wall and spinning down the track.
Bowyer had to brace for Earnhardt’s eventual attempt to pass, and he was busy blocking the move when Stewart and Cassill came blazing along the outside.
Stewart nipped him by .007 seconds, the closest finish in Nationwide Series history at Daytona.
Brian Keselowski has a sponsor for the Daytona 500. The journeyman received funding from Discount Tire and was applying the logos to his car Saturday. Keselowski has become the feel-good story of Speedweeks after receiving help from his brother to earn his first Sprint Cup start in NASCAR’s biggest race. Brad Keselowski pushed his older brother around Daytona International Speedway in a qualifying race earlier this week to help Brian get into today’s race. Now he’ll pick up a paycheck of at least $250,000 – money he can use to continue his fledgling career. Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Bowyer tied for the fastest time in the final practice for the Daytona 500. Both were clocked at 200.316 mph while pushing each other early in Saturday’s last practice. NASCAR is making another change to cars for today’s race, this one because temperatures are expected to reach 80 degrees during the season-opening race. Officials say teams can add an extra inch to grill openings, allowing more air to flow to engine-cooling radiators. The change was made following the final practice Saturday and should help drivers keep their engines cooler at speeds nearing 200 mph around Daytona.