Saturday, July 7, 2012

Stewart Holds Off Kenseth-Biffle Duo to Win at Daytona

Tony Stewart salutes the fans after winning Coke Zero 400 (Getty)
Florida Times-Union

DAYTONA BEACH - Tony Stewart passed a pack of cars on the back straightaway on the final lap of the Daytona International Speedway and captured the Coke Zero 400 Saturday, his fourth victory in Daytona's July race in the last eight years.

Stewart, the defending Sprint Cup champion, survived a crash-marred final 35 laps to win his 47th Sprint Cup race. Stewart blew past Matt Kenseth with half a lap to go after Kenseth had dominated most of the race, leading 78 of the first 120 laps.

Stewart also won in Daytona in the July races in 2005, 2006 and 2009. Stewart had qualified second but the time was disallowed because of an illegal air duct inside his car. Stewart started 42nd.

Unlike the Daytona 500 in February, which was delayed more than 30 hours because of rain, weather for the July meeting at DIS was perfect, if not broiling until the sun slipped behind the main grandstand before the start of the race.

The was cleanly run over the first half of the 160 laps. The first caution flag didn't drop until lap 82, when Sam Hornish Jr. cut a tire on the backstretch. Hornish had no idea when he woke up in the morning that he would be racing at Daytona Saturday. He was a quick replacement for Penske Racing teammate A.J. Allmendinger, who was suspended by NASCAR receiving a positive drug test of his "A" sample taken randomly last week at the race site in Sparta, Ky.

Allmendinger's No. 22 car was 15th on the grid. He had finished among the top-10 three times this season and was 23rd on the points list following Kentucky. Allmendinger has 72 hours to formally request his "B" sample be tested.

Hornish, who had finished 10th in the Nationwide Series race Friday and had returned home to North Carolina, boarded a private plane and landed at the nearby Daytona International Airport at 7:20 p.m., 15 minutes before former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden and grand marshal gave the command, "drivers, start your dad-gum engines."

The suspension gave Hornish his first start in a Daytona Sprint Cup race since July of 2010.

There were four more spectacular wrecks in laps 92, 125 and 153 and 160. The third involving 14 cars in a turn one melee, and was initiated when Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle tangled in the middle of the track.

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