Stewart Involved in Late-Race Crash While Charging Toward Lead

Tony Stewart was denied an opportunity to win his first Daytona 500 when he was caught up in a late-race accident that left him a disappointing 16th in the 54th running of the Great American Race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

Stewart came into the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, which was postponed to Monday due to rain, with high hopes after finishing second in the Feb. 18 Budweiser Shootout and winning his Gatorade Duel qualifying race on Thursday. The Gatorade Duel victory slotted him third for the Daytona 500, and Stewart knew his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) was capable of delivering him a win in his 14th Daytona 500 start.

Stewart led laps 59-60 and constantly lurked among the lead pack. He made a charge toward the front three laps from what was scheduled to be the end of the race, but was collected in an accident that doomed any chance he had of picking up the coveted Harley J. Earl trophy.

“I can win the short races, but I can’t seem to figure this one out,” said Stewart, who has 17 total victories at Daytona, second only to Dale Earnhardt’s tally of 34 overall wins at Daytona. “The guys did a really good job of getting the car fixed back up quickly to where we could go out and get a decent finish, but it’s still not what we really wanted.”

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army/Quicken Loans Chevrolet Impala for SHR, rallied to finish 21st after going two laps down early in the race with a flat tire that sent him spinning off turn two on lap 14.

SHR driver Danica Patrick finished 38th in her Sprint Cup debut after getting collected in a multi-car crash on lap two. Patrick drives the No. 10 Chevrolet Impala for Tommy Baldwin Racing via a collaborative agreement with SHR. Her next race as part of her 10-race Sprint Cup schedule for 2012 is May 12 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 to score his 22nd career Sprint Cup victory and his second in the Great American Race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished .210 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton rounded out the top-five. Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 10 caution periods for 42 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 202-lap race, which was extended two laps past its originally scheduled distance by a green-white-checkered finish.

The red flag was displayed for a bizarre incident on lap 160 when Juan Pablo Montoya exited pit road, lost control of his car and hit one of the jet dryers. The jet dryer erupted into flames and the fire quickly spread down the track toward the grass. It took several minutes for safety workers to extinguish the fire and there was a lengthy clean up and track repair process afterward. The red flag was displayed for two hours, five minutes and 29 seconds.

With round one of 36 complete, Stewart leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is 16th, 18 points behind series leader Kenseth. Newman stands 20th, 24 points out of first. Patrick did not earn any points as she is declared as a full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series driver, thereby she only earns championship points in the Nationwide Series.