Tony Stewart Sprint Unlimited Race Report

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS, represented Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in the Sprint Unlimited by finishing fourth in the non-points NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

Stewart started 15th and led twice for five laps. He was second in the closing laps of the 75-lap race but dropped to fourth on the final circuit around the 2.5-mile superspeedway after being passed by Greg Biffle and Joey Logano.

“I wasn’t quite sure exactly which move to make,” Stewart said. “I saw the No. 22 (Logano) coming on the bottom. I thought they were going fast enough that I needed to move down, but I should’ve stayed where I was.

“We’ve got a good car. Anybody that questions whether Mobil 1 is the best lubricant brand in the world, all they had to do was watch the first 20 laps of that race. We proved it by going to the back, going to the front, going to the back, going to the front. We’ve got really good racecars. I’m really proud of the Hendrick engine department and everybody at Stewart-Haas. To go through the winter these guys have gone through, trying to build cars at the last minute because of the shortage of parts and to bring two cars down here that are this fast, I’m really proud of our organization right now.”

Stewart earned entry into the exhibition race by virtue of his pole last August at Atlanta Motor Speedway and by being a two-time winner of the race (2001 and 2002), which was known as the Budweiser Shootout. Only 2012 pole winners and past winners of the Sprint Unlimited/Budweiser Shootout earned entry into the race, which this year consisted of 19 drivers.

This was Stewart’s 10th top-five finish in 14 career Sprint Unlimited starts. But it did not come without its challenges.

Stewart nearly had his night end early when on lap 15 he moved from the outside lane to the inside lane in an attempt to take second place from Marcos Ambrose and shoot into the lead. Unfortunately, the left-rear corner of Stewart’s Chevrolet clipped the right-front of Ambrose’s Ford, sending Stewart sideways through turn two. With sparks flying as the nose of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevy scraped across the apron while the rear dug into the banking, Stewart applied his dirt-track racing pedigree to quickly regain control.

But there was a ripple effect behind Stewart. Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin bounced off one another as they attempted to maneuver around what appeared to be an impending crash, and that set off a chain-reaction pileup that collected Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch.

“I got a big run on the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth), and I went to the bottom,” Stewart said. “I thought I was clear. The spotter did not clear me, so I went on my own. I made a move for the lead and probably was a little anxious too early. I thought I had a big enough run that I cleared second, but I obviously hadn’t, and I just barely nicked him. I just needed about two more inches.”

Stewart’s SHR teammates, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick, were not eligible for the race as neither driver won a pole during the 2012 Sprint Cup season nor are they past winners of the Sprint Unlimited.

Kevin Harvick won the Sprint Unlimited. It was his third win in the non-points race in the last five years, as he scored back-to-back wins in 2009 and 2010.

Biffle finished .149 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Logano, Stewart and Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Truex and Juan Pablo Montoya comprised the remainder of the top-10. There were three caution periods for four laps, with seven drivers failing to finish.

Next up for SHR is Daytona 500 qualifying, where Stewart, Newman and Patrick will be among 45 drivers going for the pole for the 55th annual Daytona 500. Qualifying is set to get underway at 1 p.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 17, with live coverage provided by FOX. The Budweiser Duel – twin 150-mile races which will set the rest of the Daytona 500 field – take place at 1:40 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21 with live coverage on SPEED. Speedweeks then culminates with the Daytona 500 at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at noon.