Limited Run for Stewart in Sprint Unlimited

After waiting nearly seven months to get back in his No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS and race, Tony Stewart didn’t waste any time getting racy in the Sprint Unlimited Saturday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

Stewart, who broke his right leg in a sprint car crash on Aug. 5, 2013, waited only five laps before ducking to the inside lane to see how his car would react in the draft. For the next 30 laps, Stewart ebbed and flowed with the draft, dropping to as low as 17th before running as high as third.

But on lap 35, a multicar crash consumed Stewart and six other drivers, three of whom were his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammates – Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. Only Harvick was able to continue in the race. For Stewart, Busch and Patrick, their race was over, with each one of their racecars a crumpled mess. All were evaluated and released from the infield care center.

“From the replay, I don’t know whether the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) came down or the No. 22 (Joey Logano) got into him. You’ve just got to protect your spot,” Stewart said after walking out of the infield care center. “I’ve always said I’m not a big fan of blocking, but unfortunately it’s what you have to do here. It seemed like tonight it was a little easier to get stalled out, so if you got track position, you had to protect it. We just needed a couple more inches here and there and we would’ve gotten out of that. We hate to have that happen.”

Moments after the accident, many were uneasy for fear the impact may have reinjured Stewart’s leg.

“I was a little nervous about it because I knew we were going to hit nose-first, but it doesn’t feel bad at all,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t have any pain. We’ll see when the adrenalin wears off here in about an hour, but so far it feels good.”

The Sprint Unlimited is a non-points exhibition race, featuring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who won a pole during the 2013 season as well as past winners of the Sprint Unlimited. This year’s field included 18 drivers. Stewart is a three-time winner of the Sprint Unlimited (2001, 2002 and 2007).

Harvick, also a three-time winner of the Sprint Unlimited (2009, 2010 and 2013), was the only SHR driver to finish the 75-lap race. He placed a respectable fifth.

Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finished 14th. He won the Sprint Unlimited in 2011.

Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS, wound up 16th. Patrick earned a spot in the race by winning the pole for last year’s Daytona 500.

Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited. It was his second win in the non-points race, with his first victory coming in 2006.

Brad Keselowski finished .197 of a second behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Kyle Busch, Logano and Harvick rounded out the top-five. Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were five caution periods for 13 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish.