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Tony Smoke! But what a wreck-fest this Daytona 400 was

Tony Smoke! But what a wreck-fest this Daytona 400 was

The chaos of the final moments of Saturday night's Daytona Coke 400, with wreckage behind them as Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth head for the finish line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Boring and monotonous...then frightening and bizarre.
   It was crazy at the end, really: A big 15-car crash the last lap...several very bad crashes during the night, including one with only eight laps to go...Tony Stewart escaping to win, after starting dead-last...and Matt Kenseth and teammate Greg Biffle, after dominating most of the action Saturday night, kicking themselves and still trying to figure out just what went wrong.
   And everyone was still scratching their heads long after Stewart finished celebrating victory in the Coke 400.
   Daytona 500 winner Kenseth clearly had the car to beat, just as he has at the season's first two restrictor plate races.
   For the final restart, with three laps to go, Kenseth had the lead and had buddy Biffle right behind him, both on the preferred inside line. Stewart was on the outside, with Hendrick 'teammate' Kasey Kahne behind him.
   As strong as Kenseth had been all night -- he led 89 of the 160 laps -- it seemed all but certain that the race was Kenseth's to lose.
   Yet somehow he did. And long afterwards Kenseth was still wondering just what happened.
   Stewart too was somewhat surprised at the way things turned out: "Just a weird day. I'm still hoping for Figure-8 racing here some day.
   "Everything got jumbled. I just tried to get Matt and Greg pulled apart, and when we got them pulled apart we got a run on the outside."


   Tony Stewart's third win of the season, and the defending NASCAR champ is looking pretty tough for a run at a fourth championship (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    "It seems like we always end these things with green-white-checkers, and with those anyone can win, and you have no idea where you can finish," Kenseth said after finishing third.
   "Just disappointing. We had the best car, and didn't win. I thought we were in perfect position, I thought it would great, for a lap and a quarter.
   "But the last lap it gets crazy and you don't know what's going on two rows behind you.
    "It's just a different kind of racing, and you can second-guess your moves all night long.
   "I lost Talladega when I didn't stick close enough to Greg on that last restart. So I was trying to stay with him this time. I shouldn't have worried about that; when Greg and I got separated off turn two I should have just stayed with Tony. But I tried to slow up and grab my teammate, who had been helping me so much all night.
    "We did get hooked back together, and when Tony slowed down, I went to go to his outside. And then everybody wrecked behind me, and I'm not sure what happened."


    Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton at the finish line. And you don't want to see the carnage behind them....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   What happened was Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the charge on the inside, and Biffle moving down to block. The vicious crash again proved the value of the softwalls here. Harvick and several others were taken to the infield hospital to be examined, and then released.
    "I was lifting off of Harvick, and being shoved into him at the same time," Earnhardt said. "Then I got clipped by Biffle.   
    "It was pretty wild; we were all running into each other."

    The finishing sprint  was set up by a big crash with eight laps to go. Kenseth and Biffle had just hooked up again, and Denny Hamlin was trying to make a move to the front, when he got caught in a sandwich on the frontstretch between Biffle and Kyle Busch. That crash took out more than a dozen drivers.
    On the last restart Kenseth and Biffle, oddly, couldn't break away from Stewart and Kahne. It was a Jack Roush versus Rick Hendrick finish, as predicted, side by side to the white flag.
   Suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere Richard Childress' two stars, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick charged into contention. But as the pack headed into the first turn for the last time, Burton got pushed a bit sideways and had to make a save.
   That was the moment Kenseth backed off just a bit to make sure he and Biffle would be locked together for maximum aero the final mile. And Stewart took advantage of that to surge into the lead as the pack reached the third turn.
   Coming off turn four another big crash -- Biffle apparently moving to block a run by Harvick and Earnhardt. It got four-wide in a hurry, and a major pileup, and the yellow quickly came out, just a second or two before Stewart crossed the finish line.

    In a surprise, Burton wound up second. "We just had to ride around in the back tonight, because otherwise we were going to overheat our engines," Burton said.
    In another surprise Ryan Newman finished fifth. "We were 15th or 16th going into turn three the last lap, and to wind up fifth...."
    Of course that was the huge wreck.
   Newman was involved in a scary wreck on pit road midway through the race, when he got clipped by Jeff Gordon.
   Newman blamed Gordon for not giving room. Newman's car was knocked into the rear of Brad Keselowski's car.
   "Jeff just didn't leave us any room," Newman said. The two were both coming out of their pits. "I watched him in the mirror, he was way behind us," Newman said. "And he just never made to the outside lane.
    "I spun around and hit Brad. Luckily no one was hurt."
   Just lucky, though. A NASCAR inspector had to leap over the pit road wall to safety to avoid being crushed between the Newman and Kahne cars.





Both races this weekend had different style plate racing...but I enjoyed them for what they were. I wonder..should we expect a points penalty for the 14's qualifying infraction? A points deduction could possibly drop Stewart out of the top ten with the tight points situation.

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