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MOTOR RACING

Tony Stewart wins Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

The owner-driver held off a late surge by Kyle Busch that resulted in a wreck at the end of the race.

July 05, 2009|Tania Ganguli

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — Kyle Busch got out of his smashed up car and went straight toward Victory Lane as he pulled his gloves off.

He didn't win the race, but he had a score to settle with the guy who did. Four officials got in his way, grabbed him and forced him toward the infield care center where he was examined and released.

Minutes before that, he had tried to make a blocking move to win the Coke Zero 400. He turned his nose in front of Tony Stewart, and Stewart ignored it. Instead, Stewart kept his path, sent Busch across his hood and crashing into the outside wall, and won the race.

Four weeks after Stewart's first race win as a team owner, he won again after starting from the pole. It was Stewart's third win in Daytona's July race and his third win at the track overall.

"The guys are racing," Jimmie Johnson said. "Tony didn't mean to dump him. Same thing with Talladega. It's just restrictor-plate racing."

The race-ending wreck played out similarly to the race-ending wreck at Talladega Superspeedway in April. Unlike that April crash, Busch didn't fly up into the air and hit the catchfence.

Four cars had a shot on the race's final restart with four laps to go: Stewart, Busch, Denny Hamlin and Johnson.

None of the latter three could get by Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet, then suddenly there was a chance.

Hamlin had a decision to make. He could push his former teammate, Stewart, or he could push his current teammate, Busch. He picked Busch.

"The best chance for one of our cars to win was for me to push the 18," Hamlin said.

The resulting battle led to disaster for Busch. After Stewart sent the No. 18 up the track, Busch's car was hit twice more -- once from behind by Kasey Kahne and once from the side by teammate Joey Logano.

Johnson finished second, Hamlin finished third and Carl Edwards finished fourth. Busch finished 14th. Stewart, Busch, Hamlin and Johnson began separating from the pack with about 30 laps to go. Almost two seconds behind them were Juan Pablo Montoya and Edwards.

With the specter of potential rain hanging over Daytona International Speedway, drivers began points racing early in the Coke Zero 400.

After the 160-lap race reached its halfway point it could have ended any time NASCAR decided it should.

But a storm to the west stayed to the west. Just after 10 p.m. local time, with a little more than 50 laps to go in the race, the heavy rain on the radar disappeared.

That storm was about 15 miles away from Daytona International Speedway when the race had about 90 laps to go. Every team began monitoring weather radars. The red blob, which marked the rain, to the west of Daytona Beach on radar maps moved slowly east.

On Lap 77, three laps before the race was official and could have been called, a 13-car crash on the back-stretch brought out a caution.

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tganguli@orlandosentinel.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. Top 12 will qualify for the Chase for the Cup. The first of the 10 races in the Chase for the Cup will be held Sept. 20:

*--* NO. DRIVER POINTS BEHIND 1 Tony Stewart 2,719 -- 2 Jeff Gordon 2,539 180 3 Jimmie Johnson 2,525 194 4 Kurt Busch 2,414 305 5 Carl Edwards 2,317 402 6 Denny Hamlin 2,302 417 7 Ryan Newman 2,235 484 8 Kyle Busch 2,234 485 9 Greg Biffle 2,215 504 10 Matt Kenseth 2,201 518 11 Juan Montoya 2,187 532 12 Kasey Kahne 2,166 553 13 Mark Martin 2,101 618 14 David Reutimann 2,092 627 15 Jeff Burton 2,061 658 *--*

Source: nascar.com

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